Marco Di Lauro: giving voice to those who are unable to speak out

By Andrea Carloni e Carlotta Ferrati

October 2019

Marco Di Lauro is a war photojournalist. He has personally experienced and documented many territories that are difficult for us in the Western world to understand. Speaking with Di Lauro it is possible to understand that the suffering that some populations are forced to experience is something quite different from our own, albeit serious, inconveniences of everyday life. If, in and of itself, the work as a war photojournalist is an extraordinary activity, Marco Di Lauro is one of the best among them. He has been awarded the World Press Photo; one of his famous photos was displayed for some time at the entrance of the Pentagon in memory of the war in Iraq; and it was Angelina Jolie who wanted him at her side during a humanitarian journey.

The Tree Mag is a design magazine that is all about the search for “beauty”, but through the work of Marco Di Lauro it is possible to understand how lucky we are, having to deal with just these issues compared to millions of people in the world whose only concern is how survive one more day. Lastly, Marco Di Lauro’s photos are “beautiful”!

Marco Di Lauro

To do your job as a war photojournalist, I don’t think just knowing how to use a camera would be enough.

The camera is the main tool, but often in my work, the most complicated part is getting to the place where you can use it. Most of my time spent in these places is not actually shooting photos but organising how to photograph. Another factor, which perhaps many people do not know, is that it has become very expensive to reach war zones and it is almost impossible without the support of an agency. This aspect partly impacts a photographer’s work because it is no longer possible to take on self-financed personal projects.

Marco Di Lauro, Afghanistan “War”

So, is your job changing?

I started this work in 1998 and until 2010 I worked almost exclusively on documenting conflicts. In recent years my business has changed, and I am increasingly becoming involved in commissioning work for companies. Today, unless you are part of the staff of an important agency or a newspaper like the New York Times that guarantees you a salary, you can no longer make a living in photojournalism.

Marco Di Lauro – South Sudan, “A wild country grows in South Sudan”

Through your work you have the chance to learn about such different worlds…

I do, in fact. If on the one hand we see reports on war in which death is constantly centre stage, on the other you are called on to report on Hollywood stars or  to celebrate Giorgio Armani’s 40 years of activity. In the case of Giorgio Armani, the work was commissioned directly by him and he wanted me to do a reportage on three days of celebrations for the 40th anniversary of his company. It was one of the jobs that I enjoyed the most, perhaps because it is the antithesis of what I usually do.

Marco Di Lauro – Italy, “King George, a 40-years long tale”

Following on from what you said earlier, the fact that there are practically no more independent photojournalists is a problem.

That isn’t quite so, it’s quite the opposite, thanks to new technologies there are more and more photographers willing to go to war zones at ever lower prices, moreover the agencies and the newspapers are constantly reducing the available budget. In the past, if the photo editor of a newspaper had to choose from a few hundreds of photos made available by photojournalists for each article, now they must select among many thousands, and with even less time available, I just don’t understand how they can do it.

Marco Di Lauro – Kosovo, “1998 – 1999”

Your images often make a strong impact and are published in many international newspapers. Do you ever disagree with the content of the article to which they are matched?

Yes, very often. Keep in mind that my photos are managed by an agency that distributes to 9,000 newspapers.

When you shoot in war zones what are you trying to convey?

I try to give voice to those who do not have one. I express the suffering of the people I photograph or simply the story of what I am seeing. I do all this whilst trying to remain as neutral as possible. I can also tell you that in the face of death it is difficult not to pass judgment.

Marco Di Lauro – Kosovo, “1998 – 1999”

You have done some services staying with the troops, can you explain what it means?

I have done many “embedded” missions with both English and American troops.

What do you mean by missions?

You have the same equipment as the soldiers and follow them during the mission with the only difference being that instead of a rifle you have a camera. You run the same risks and take pictures while somewhere someone could shoot and kill you. In 2001 I took a bullet in my back and unfortunately, I have had colleagues who died during missions.

Marco Di Lauro, Afghanistan “War”

Is it true that soldiers on missions are often very young?

Yes, very young, especially the Americans. I believe it depends on the recruiting system of the troops themselves. More and more, in recent years, individuals from ghettos have been recruited, or people who are marginalised or excluded.

When you come back from one of your missions, do you ever compare the youth of the warring countries to ours of the so-called “civilised world”?

They are completely different people. It could be educational for everyone to spend a day in a war zone! Perhaps our society would be more humane and flexible in accepting certain things. I see more and more a crumbling of values ​​and despite being only 48, I find it hard to see myself in this society.

Marco Di Lauro, Afghanistan “War”

Your famous photo of the child playing among the bodies says a lot about how there are more worlds…

That photo was chosen by Paul Wolfowitz, who at the time was Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy, as a symbol of the war in Iraq and was hung at the entrance to the Pentagon. The day I took that photo, I was struck by this little boy who played in a natural way among hundreds of covered corpses, like any child who spends time hopping and jumping around.

Marco Di Lauro, Iraq, ”The Aftermath of Saddam”

I believe that the luck of being in the right place at the right time and being ready to shoot is fundamental in your work.

I don’t remember who said, “the best photos are the ones you saw, but you didn’t take.” I can safely tell you that the best photos of my life are those that I haven’t been able to take or even worse I couldn’t take.

You couldn’t in what sense?

That sometimes the troops didn’t allow me to shoot some scenes.

Marco Di Lauro, Niger, “Food Crisis”

So, the military has the power to prevent journalists from photographing some things?

Absolutely yes. You are their guest. It has always been this way; the reporter can only do what he is allowed by the host troops. I must also say that almost everything is allowed.

You are not just a photographer, but a person who moves from one country to another. How do you feel about the travelling?

I love travelling. For some years now I have become a true fan of cycling trips, I can do almost 20,000 km a year in the saddle! I recently went from Paris to Barcelona via Brittany and Normandy.

Marco Di Lauro, Lebanon, “July War”

Speaking of trips, in Afghanistan you took a very long one on foot. Can you talk about it?

It was one of the hardest and most important adventures I’ve had in my photojournalist career. It was just after September 11 and it was impossible to enter the Panshir valley in Afghanistan by traditional means. The Associated Press wanted to install a satellite receiver there and then sell the service on to TV all over the world. A group of satellite technicians and I started a long 22-day journey on foot through the mountains bordering Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Marco Di Lauro, Afghanistan “War”

I guess it was exhausting…

I almost lost my feet due to exposure. In those areas in winter you are at about minus 20 degrees. When I was entrenched with the troops the situation was not so different, sometimes I even walked for 72 hours straight without sleeping, carrying kilos of equipment as well as a tent, a sleeping bag and more. In some moments the only thing that kept me going was desperation.

Marco Di Lauro, Afghanistan “War”

What does it mean to be a war photographer?

In a nutshell, being a war photojournalist means experiencing constant pain both physically and emotionally.

When you find yourself covering a story in places where poverty, hardship and death reign, are you able to find beauty anywhere?

Some people call it “pain aesthetics”. Instead I just say that judging my photos is up to the observer.

Marco Di Lauro, Afghanistan, “Angelina Jolie with UNHCR”
LATEST INTERVIEWS