In conversation with: Anna Di Prospero

On the occasion of an artistin-residence program at the IIC in Madrid, we met Anna di Prospero, the young Italian photographer author of the picture that became the symbol of the exhibition L’altro sguardo – Italian Photographers 1965-2015, made of more than one hundred and fifty photographs from the Donata Pizzi Collection.

Closed in January 2017 at the Triennale in Milan, the collection is now updated and on display at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, where once again Anna Di Prospero is the protagonist of the exhibition’s communication campaign, with another of her pictures that has recently become part of the collection.

Everyone knows you for self-portrait with your mother.

Yup! It’s the cross I have to bear, everyone always wants this photograph. I don’t deny that it’s “my lucky shot” because it took only 10 minutes to do it, and when I first saw it, I was impressed. I decided the light and the element of glass that was to be present in all the photographs of this series, for the rest the picture is made entirely together with my mother: we decided where to shoot, what to wear and above all the gesture. It had to represent our relationship.

I guess you’d like all your works to be so popular…

Yes, of course, maybe it’s just because I’m still at the beginning and I really want to experiment… and also the disappointment for some works that I feel more authentic, and have not been accepted in the same way. At first I was afraid of never being able to make a shot better than this, now I’m ok with it, but I still hear people saying “Ah, that shot …”

An artist can’t avoid confrontation with the public. Edgar Degas said that “art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” Assuming that everyone can see what he wants in your work, you like this freedom or you would like to guide the observer in some way ?

The question is interesting because this is a period when I’m realizing different things about this aspect. I realized for example that most of my works need an introduction and, indeed, it’s very much appreciated by those who observe a photograph. Once I believed that the work didn’t need explanations, but thanks also to my gallerist, Maria Livia Brunelli–who insisted saying that many collectors and visitors like to hear something from me–I understood that an explanation about the work can help.

It can also help you to be more attracted.

Definitevely true, it was just something that I didn’t consider. I also thought something else. I’ve always worked in a very schematic way, to try to simplify and make better understand what my work has been up to now. I thought it was all clear, but it wasn’t. So last month I started to make Instagram Stories where I talk about my works starting from one of the pictures of L’altro Sguardo, and then I explained a little bit the series related to the places. I’ve received so many messages from people telling me they never understood that there were so many concepts behind my works.

I understood that one of my tasks as photographer is also to introduce, to explain, to guide the viewer at the entrance and then, from there, let him see what he wishes.

Are you following any photographers on Instagram?

Ryan McGinley, an American photographer, that uses his profile both for ipictures and to spread events. Cindy Sherman‘s account is very smart, I find it a very interesting way to use social media. It is a work of great depth and I also appreciate the fact of knowing how to reinvent using contemporary means. Then … see those photos and you make fat laugh because you do not understand what they are, but it is absolutely consistent within its path.

I also follow Amalia Ulman, an Argentinian conceptual artist who works with video and photography. One day she begins to post on her Instagram profile pictures in which she poses as an it-girl, adding also hashtag like #fashion and many others. The photos are the classic ones that can be seen on certain profiles: the girl with the take-away cup of coffee, or while she’s making up, kittens… Ans it was so real that his gallerists were worried about her reputation: “What will people think if you put this on your Instagram profile?” After a few months she’ll publish a picture of a rose with the writing “The End” and presented the project as a work of self-reinterpretation: just like what Cindy Sherman did with self-portrait about fifty years ago, Amalia Ulman did it now through social media. This work was then exhibited at the Tate in 2016 in a group show on the portrait (Editor’s note: Performing for the camera, Tate Modern, 2016).

Anna Di Prospero Self portrait at home1
From the series ‘Self portrait at home’
Anna Di Prospero Self portrait at home
From the series ‘Self portrait at home’

How did you take the first steps in photography?

I started to take photographs seriously in 2007 when I moved to the house where I shot my first series, Self portrait at home, made of self-portraits taken all within that house. Photography helped me get in touch with that space that was initially unknown. I had already had my first approach to photography at the age of 15 with a competition for young people in the province of Latina: I won a section and I took a course in analog photography, then I left to study painting. I got back in 2007 with this moving but also with the discovery of Flickr, which gave me the desire and inspiration to take up the camera.

It was important to belong to a community, to receive advice, because I was self-taught. I liked to make these photographs but above all the post-production process, it was an extension of my creative process from the beginning.

So are you totally self-taught or have you studied photography?

After high school I wanted to study photography, but my parents pushed me to art history at the University. I attended very little because I stayed at home taking photographs. I went on for three years until I won a competition called Sè stessi of the European Institute of Design in Rome, so I finally started to study photography with a scholarship. From 2010 to 2012 I also took part to the Reflexions Masterclass held by Giorgia Fiorio and Gabriel Bauret, a meeting every 4 months in a different place in Europe.

Your photography path looks like an on the road trip, with a precise starting point–which is curiously your home–and well organized in a series of stops. The following stages were the series made in Latina, first, and the one with contemporary architectures, then. What is the difference between the two?

In order to grow from a personal and professional point of view I had to push myself further. I made a series in my hometown, Latina, where once again the camera helped me to interact with the space. It took 15 days, from 15 to 30 August, from 5.30 to 6.30 in the morning, when the city was a desert. Once again they’re all self-portraits but I started then to cover the face, without giving a precise identity, leaving the vision as universal as possible.

From there I tried to push myself ever further away, towards Europe, and the United States, in search of contemporary architectural works to establish an interaction between body and space. I chose the architecture because I wanted to confront myself with something present, not tied to the past or to the future. The project started here in Madrid in 2010 and went on until 2015, getting to New York too, where the only place I was able to photograph was the High Line.

I don’t deny that I have many limits–photographically speaking–I can’t shoot in black and white, and I can’t take vertical pictures. In New York they are all skyscrapers so… !

I arrived in New York in 2010, thanks to the IED, I won a scholarship to spend the first semester of the last year at the School of Visual Arts.

photogrpahy_anna di prospero_
From the series ‘Self-portrait in my hometown’, Latina #1, 2009
photogrpahy_anna di prospero_
From the series ‘Self-portrait in my hometown’, Latina #2, 2009
photogrpahy_anna di prospero_
From the series ‘Self-portrait in my hometown’, Latina #6, 2009
From the series ‘Urban self-portrait’, Untitled, 2010 (Richard Serra, Novartis Campus – Basel, Switzerland)
From the series ‘Urban self-portrait’, Untitled, 2015 (Vodafone Building – Porto, Portugal)
photography_anna di prospero
From the series ‘Urban self-portrait’, Untitled, 2015 (Den Blå Planet – Copenhagen, Denmark)
Anna Di Prospero Urban self portrait5
From the series ‘Urban self-portrait’, Untitled, 2010 (El Mirador de Sanchinarro, social housing – Madrid, Spain)
Anna Di Prospero Urban self portrait2
From the series ‘Urban self-portrait’, Untitled, 2012 (Jubilee Church – Roma, Italy)
Anna Di Prospero Urban self portrait
From the series ‘Urban self-portrait’, Untitled, 2011 (The Guggenheim Museum – Bilbao, Spain)
Anna Di Prospero Urban self portrait1
From the series ‘Urban self-portrait’, Untitled, 2011 (The City of Arts and Sciences – Valencia, Spain)

And what was the impact New York had on your photography?

When I moved to New York it was the first time that I was completely alone, far from my family, I was alone on the other side of the world, and there, again, I started to stay at home taking pictures, instead of going out and discover the most beautiful city in the world! Through the camera I tried to recreate a familiar environment.

These photos have then given way to a kind of ritual, every time I was in a city for short or long periods, for reasons of study or work, I took a photograph. It was not a very heart-felt project, but it won one of the prizes that gave me more visibility [editor’s note, placing second in the Sony World Photography Awards Professional Competition 2014] and this thing made me think about my work, about the time I dedicate to a project, and those that are born a bit by chance.

After New York there have been other fundamental stops? From now on, you were no longer alone in photography.

Up to now I had always worked relating myself to the place, in fact all the first series are part of a project entitled I’m here, focused on the relationship with the place. But while I was in New York, perhaps because I was distant from everyone, I began to think to the relationship with people, and no longer with the place. And so back to Italy I started a new project With you, and the first series consists of self-portraits with my family, which includes the picture with my mother.

Your parents helped you despite initially they didn’t believe in your project. Perhaps they were realizing that your work was appreciated from the outside.

At first my father didn’t believe in this thing, he didn’t believe in my career, he’s an entrepreneur, but for this series he helped me very much, as well as in many of my following projects. The only time I saw my parents really happy, especially my father, was in New York for the awards ceremony of the International Photography Award of 2011, where with the self-portrait with my mother I was one of the finalists. The evening was very fancy and very American-style, like the Oscars, at the Lincoln Center, and when they said my name, he was shouted “She’s my daughter!”

Anna Di Prospero With you (Self portrait wit
Self-portrait with my grandmother Alfreda, 2011
Anna Di Prospero With you (Self portrait with my family)1
Self-portrait with my father, 2011
Anna Di Prospero Central Park
Central Park #2, 2015
Anna Di Prospero Central Park1
Central Park #5, 2015


Breakfast or dinner?


Watsapp, text or voice message?


Colors or black&white?


One thing you never travel without?

Actually a lot of things… but I’d say my pajama!

Next destination?

Trentino [Italy], on holiday.

A secret passion.

The table football, I love it, it takes out all my competitive side, I become another person.

You ‘re really good at…


As a child what did you want to become?

A dancer. Or an oceanographer, I had a period where I wanted to study the oceans.

And what would you say now?

A photographer!

Cooking or take-away?

Cooking, but I say it only because my husband is a cook… I’m actually very bad at cooking!

Your favorite photographer?

Gregory Crewdson.

A picture or a series by someone else you’d like to have shot?

The earlier series by Gregory Crewdson like Twilight, or Beneth the Roses.

The best decision you took.

Probably to tkae part at the IED prize that I won and let the university.

Summer or winter?

Summer. I’d actually say spring.

How do you start an email?


Published on Polpettas Magazine. Italian version available here.

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