Monika Bulaj on Photography

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When you walk on a road you know well, try to look at it with new eyes. A photograph is a story of who you are, of your soul. It is detachment and participation. It means being into things, but with the ability to see them and recognise them. It allows you to be very close to people but in a different way.

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“Are we, perhaps, here just for saying: House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate, Jug, Fruit tree, Window, – possibly: Pillar, Tower?… but for saying, remember, oh, for such saying as never the things themselves hoped so intensely to be.”

(R. M. Rilke, Duino Elegy #9) 

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Look at the lines of the shadows. Something can become something else. A flower can become a person. A girl can turn into a swan. A sheet metal a road to heaven. The woman who hangs out clothes is not just your mother, look at her beautiful face, the beauty of a face shaded by the steam of a hot drink. Watch “the exquisite blush of wine stains strewn on the tablecloth, the livid zebra stripes of lightning” on the faces of drinkers in a tavern… (M. Yourcenar, Oriental Tales) 

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Photograph the scent, the sound, the thoughts of others, like the angels in Wim Wenders’ movie Wings of Desire: listen to the voices (for example on a bus … in the metro).

Photography is a serious matter. It has the responsibility to disclose reality, not to delete it. As it happens in a dream when we recognise some elements, yet something, just barely, is different.

Jewish tradition says that the light can only be seen in a reflection. At the end of Shabbat the Jews put their hands close to the candle , those little mirrors of our body, the nails that reflect, as our eyes do, mirrors of the soul. The Other too reflects the light. The look in return, the mirror – it is the essence of photography, too. It becomes what you look at. And do not be afraid of your weakness, because it is your strength. Look at places like they are in a fairy tale, where a small thing becomes big or, otherwise, you are now the Alice in the mirror. Anything is possible. Let your intuition guide you.

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Do not show the reality as you want to be, and do not judge. A good photograph does not need any added words, it is already a book. You have to observe, learn, be amazed, be surprised, be moved.

You give life to beauty; without it your look would disappear leaving no trace.

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Photograph the movement. Walk beside the people to photograph them, put yourself in the game when you are shooting, dance with dancers, run by those who run away.

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Never despair: a missed train, a missed appointment, you can always turn these events into opportunities: it will turn into an even more interesting photographic adventure. It is nice to discover the parallel design of destiny. Do not miss the opportunity to turn the misfortune to your advantage.

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And then, the photographer is like a magician, he/she previews something before it happens.

Become invisible, part of the landscape, a piece of furniture.

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Photography is an art that is very compromised with reality, it can not and should not escape from it. Maybe it is a question of balance between space for the photographer’s creativity and space for the unveiling of reality, such as at the origin of photography, with the plates exposed by the light itself or from items placed on the plate itself. Perhaps the eyes of the photographer may be that plate, open, even wide open outwards, not concentrated to only explore the effect of the world on its inside.

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I would like to go back to the beginning of photography and to the priorities of its masters, observe life and the world, learn, be astonished, wonder, be moved.
Do not invent, do not be biased, but let our intuition help us distinguish important (significant) things.

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Do not show the reality as we would like it to be.
I do not impose your artistic vision, manipulating the elements of reality.

Reality is for me more amazing and mysterious than our own imagination.

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I chose photojournalism, hence, not conceptual photography.
Photojournalism as the creative writing of reality.
It is like painting an icon to explore the canon of the chosen form and let the reality itself imbue us like a sponge.

As if the picture was a text dictated by someone else.

It is an inner creative process, an exercise that uses only reality as matter of investigation.
It is not a passive record, nor a documentation; it is rather perceiving deep human bonds, and have these bonds, together with compassion, create something new.

There is no look-and-go, nor picture-hunting or photo-safari but, somehow, a reflected look.

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To tell you the truth, I do not know any method other than study, go and question myself every single day of the trip. By focusing on the pure observation of reality, almost in a childlike way, deeply intuitive.

Photography is for me is perhaps a matter of commitment, of practice (the Greek téchne, hence, “art”, but also “know-how”), meditation, sensitivity and patience. It is a serious matter, but at the same time it is a pleasure to be, sometimes very closely, around people, This is perhaps the only good reason to take pictures.

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Therefore, photograph people not to take a pretty picture, but because they exist.

An Interview with Stephanie Cutter


By NYU Florence student Opheli Garcia Lawler

Stephanie Cutter lives up to her reputation, in some ways. Known in the political world as abrasive, tough, decisive, and sometimes even hostile, she is a force to be reckoned with. Even in a relaxed atmosphere, the beautiful Villa Sassetti, her eyes are still perceptive, and even when she is in casual conversation, everyone can sense the fierceness she possesses.

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Ms. Cutter after a day of panels discussing the political future and past of the United States. We discussed everything from the future of the democratic party, to being a woman in her position, to what it takes to get where you want to be in Washington D.C.

Ms. Cutter believes that the best way to be successful in Washington is to do every job you are assigned to the best of your ability. “If you are working on a campaign, and you are tasked with changing the printer ink, and you don’t do that, then when it comes time to print pamphlets that are going to be used to enlist voters, and the pamphlets cannot be printed on time, that’s a big deal. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of your job.”

On the future of the Democratic party, and the lack of hope democrats may be feeling now, after a crushing mid-term election and the feeling of a fractured party, she said the democrats are going to have to work hard over the next two years to improve their image. The democratic voters are also going to have to do their part, and turn out to vote, so that there is a chance for democrats to make the changes that will give the party back the hope it had in 2012.

As for being a woman in her position, she attributes her success to seizing opportunities presented to her. “I could never have planned this, being where I am today, but I worked hard, and when an opportunity presented itself, I took it.”

As fierce as Stephanie Cutter is, she was still gracious and informative on the panels for La Pietra Dialogues, and one must admire her work, and her tenacity.

Creative Writing and the Non-Fiction of Reality through Photography: A Workshop with Monika Bulaj

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The word “writing” in reference to photojournalism may seem paradoxical.

It’s as if one writes the icon, exploring the canon of form but, at the same time, letting reality itself imbue us like a sponge. It’s as if the image, the icon, in fact, were a text dictated by someone else. It’s an internal creative process, an artistic path that uses reality as the subject of the investigation. And reality, for the great masters of photojournalism, is more surprising and mysterious than our own imagination.

The method

The starting point of our investigation and study will be a non-fiction situation, a reportage, what has recently been called a “creative non-fiction.”

I know of no method except to challenge oneself every day by focusing on a deeply intuitive, almost childlike, “pure” vision of reality.

For me, photography is commitment, practice (as the Greeks define it, téchne, therefore “art” but also “know-how”), meditation, sensitivity, and patience. I believe that these qualities should be developed, taking advantage of the knowledge, and, above all, of the errors, but only to forget them and to jump back, naked, into the game, starting anew each day.

We will start from the basics, the cardinal points of the image: time and space – in a philosophical sense, in a visual sense, and in a purely technical sense.  We will discuss how to crop, frame, and select the real; we will talk about the ‘gaze’, subjectivity, and seeing what others simply look at. We will also talk about the possibility, somewhat remote, of capturing the invisible.

Our points of reference in the workshop will be the photographs of masters, your portfolios, and my work. Your work will be the focus. You will take photographs during a shooting session. Your portfolio will be a story composed of 12 images. Please think over the sequence with care.

We will concentrate on composition, rhythm, sequences, and counterpoints for each sequence. We’ll try to locate a fiction that should work beyond the individual photographs.

We will talk about the truth and mystery in photography that can perhaps be illuminated only by you. You will be strongly encouraged to explore your perceptions and your sensitivity and to use them as your point of departure for developing creatively. We will talk about how to work with reality without transforming it, without influencing it, without lying about it. Therefore, we will also talk about ethics in photojournalism, honesty, and post-production, as well as the evolution of photojournalism in the history of photography and of documentary and journalistic investigation – its nuances, transformations and languages.

Text by Monika Bulaj, Translation by Alessandra Capodacqua, Editing by Joshua St. Clair, NYU Florence student

The Case of Blackness in Renaissance Italy

by Portland Thomas, NYU Florence Student

Historian and co-director of the Center for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies at the Queen Mary College of London, Professor Kate Lowe, headed the discussion centered around the enforced immigration of black Africans to Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries at the LPD event “Disruptive Reality: Black Africans in Renaissance Italy”. By analyzing artistic and documented resources Professor Lowe provided an in depth look at the history of the presence of black Africans in Italy and, more specifically, Venice during this period of rebirth.

Professor Lowe explained that in mid 15th century, slavery had become a widely accepted social institution in Italy and most of Europe and there was a large presence of white slaves and indentured servants before the arrival of black Africans. With the arrival of these black Africans came the disruption of the reality and way of life of both Africans and Venetians. First and foremost, this disruptive reality manifested itself in the lives of the black Africans who were ripped from their way of life and forcibly transported to Italy, Spain, and Portugal. These individuals’ way of life and being became disrupted by the arrival of Europeans and continued to be disrupted as they were separated from their families and sold into slavery.

Secondly Italians had preconceived notions of black Africans which were formed in part by the media of the time; whether it was visually, such as paintings, sculptures and statues, or through literature such as plays or books. The representation, or misrepresentation, of black Africans in Italy became disrupted by the actual arrival of this group of people, causing a collision of expectation and reality for Italians.

Lowe provided valuable insight on the vague and seemingly indiscernible history of black Africans in Renaissance Italy.  She was able to uncover a new reality of diversity in Italian history. An important history that may carry a sense of identity for black Italians today.



Introduction to Imperfect Post Colonialism: Rapping From the Land of Punt

By Kevin Ditzler, NYU Florence Student

On November 18 at Villa La Pietra, there will be a dialogue introduced by Professor Alessandra di Maio with writer Ubah Cristina Ali Farah, publisher Isabella Feretti and Giovanna Bellesia of Smith College joining the conversation.

How has Italy’s past colonization of Africa affected its current identity? How is this effect viewed from the view point of ‘native’ Italians? What about the views of the colonized and the resulting African-Italian youths that find themselves in contemporary Italian culture?

Somali-Italian writer Ubah Cristina Farah will speak about her latest novel Il comandante del Fiume where she writes about this particular subject from the perspective of the colonizers, colonized and the resulting African-Italian youths that live in the environment created by the era of Italian colonization.

The dialogue will also include English translator Giovanna Bellesia and Isabella Ferretti, the publisher of Ali Farah’s novel.

The video below is another dialogue in the Black Italia series that was also introduced by Professor Di Maio. The dialogue includes Senegalese-Italian immigrant Pap Khouma who conducts a conversation about his personal experiences with immigration in Italy and the struggle of African immigrants to find their own niche in Italian society.

A Nation of Migration: Voices and Visions from Africa from La Pietra Dialogues NYU on Vimeo.

Inside American Politics: Reading List

by Kevin Ditzler, NYU Florence Student

Here are some questions to guide you through the following selections of reading prior to the upcoming Inside American Politics conference:

A Red Effect 

What are the long and short-term effects of the expected Republican victories during the 2014 midterm elections? How will a Republican House and Senate affect the final years of Obama’s presidency and the outcome of the 2016 presidential election?

2014 Midterms: Why the Election Will Matter… and Why It Won’t,

Thomas E. Mann, Brookings, October 20, 2014

Pettiness in Politics

Is the 2014 election being decided solely by political and economic issues or by more personal “petty issues”? With both major parties establishing super PACS with the sole purpose of opposition research, are elections being decided by policy and important matters or by gossip and drama?

How 2014 Became the ‘Gotcha’ Election

Alex Altman, TIME, October 1, 2014

Terror From Capitol Hill

In the face of the Ebola outbreak and the ISIS regime, are most Americans scared that their government may not have control of the situation? Will this fear have a direct effect on the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections? Is it reassurance or policy that the American people want from their government?

The Chaos Election

William Galston, Politico, October 27, 2014

An Early Victory, But A Long War

How does early voting affect elections, and in particular, the 2014 midterms? Does this pattern differ by state, and if it does, what does the race look like within these particular states?

2014 Midterm Elections: Early Voting Reveals Senate Race Insights

Connor Adams Sheets, International Business Times, October 29, 2014

Hilary Has Company

Which potential candidates for the GOP and Democratic parties have been garnering the most media attention? How does this coverage compare in magnitude to previous presidential election coverage?

Media Coverage of The 2016 Presidential Race Heats Up

Paul Hitlin and Monica Anderson, Pew Research Center, October 14, 2014

Voice of the Millenium

Looking forward to the 2016 presidential elections, what role are Millenials opted to fill? Are Millenials becoming more Republican or just less Democratic? How active will Millenials be in participating in the voting that will take place in 2016?

Harvard Poll: Millennial Voters Get Their Swing Back

Susan Davis, USA Today, October 29, 2014

A Voting Change of Heart

If someone says they are not interested in the elections, will they end up voting? How large is the group of “unenthused” people and how substantial is their likelihood to vote and shift the results of the election?

Don’t Overstate Voter Enthusiasm Pollsters Warn

Siobhan Hughes, Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2014

Demographics and Democracy

What demographics vote for each of the major American political parties? Why are some voting during midterms while some are deciding to stay at home? Can a government with a president of one party and a congress of another party actually coexist and produce productive results?

2014 vs. 2012: Two Portraits of American Voters

Gerald Seib, Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2014

Discover Inside American Politics Speaker: Kevin Madden

By Kevin Ditzler NYU Florence Student

Kevin Madden was senior advisor and spokesmen for the Romney 2012 presidential campaign and served as National Press Secretary and Senior Communications Strategist for the Romney 2008 presidential campaign. During the 2004 presidential campaign, Madden was a member of the communications team directing President George W. Bush’s re-election effort.

With a multitude of experience in communications for the GOP, Madden provides a direct window into the last three presidential campaigns from a Republican perspective. With Hillary Clinton coined as the favorite going into the 2016 presidential race, Madden will offer insight into what the GOP might be planning to do to change this prediction and which candidates are most likely to win the Republican bid. Likewise, with the GOP taking a majority in both the House and the Senate, Madden will speak about whether this will have a substantial effect on the upcoming presidential election.

The video below shows an interview conducted by Anderson Cooper where Kevin Madden discusses the Romney campaign’s focus during the 2012 presidential race.

In this interview with GQ Kevin Madden recaps the failed 2012 Romney campaign and looks forward on the future of the Republican party.

Follow Kevin Madden on Twitter.

Follow the conference and tweet using the hashtag #uspol_lpd

Discover Inside American Politics Speaker: Stephanie Cutter

By Portland Thomas, NYU Florence Student

On Wednesday November 12th 2014, Political consultant and CNN contributor Stephanie Cutter will speak at La Pietra Dialogues’ Inside American Politics conference. Cutter is the founding partner of Precision Strategies and is perhaps best known for her service as the Deputy Campaign Manager for Obama’s 2012 presidential election. Cutter is a graduate of Smith College and Georgetown University Law Center and has been referred to by the New York Times as “the polished, sometimes scarily organized strategist who gets things done” and “has a long and favorable reputation with some of the most influential journalists and opinion makers in Washington.” Cutter also starred as a co-host on the revival of the 1982 television series Crossfire on CNN from 2013 to 2014. During the conference Cutter will discuss the remaining years of the Obama presidency and what we can expect for the upcoming presidential elections.

Read a more extensive bio here.

Starting at 21:30 in the video below, Stephanie Cutter speaks on a SiriusXM panel about Obama’s campaign and administration.

You can check out an interview of Cutter with the New York Daily News here.

Follow the conference and tweet using the hashtag #uspol_lpd

Discover Inside American Politics Speaker: Joel Benenson

by Allison Reid, NYU Florence Student

Joel Benenson is the only Democratic pollster in history to have played a leading role in three winning presidential campaigns — making him the “go-to guy for any politico wanting to take the public´s temperature,” according to GQ magazine. Joel has been the chief pollster and a senior strategist for President Barack Obama since the beginning of his 2008 campaign. In an interview appeared in 2012 in The New York Times, Joel explained why he thinks President Obama was successful in his presidential campaign.

Joel has been named “Pollster of the Year” by the American Association of Political Consultants and among the “most powerful” people in D.C. He was also included on The New Republic´s “The O-List,” which identified the 30 most influential players in Obama´s 2008 run for office.

Here he appears with another of next week’s speakers, CNN contributor and former Obama administration advisor, Stephanie Cutter:

See Joel Benenson talking about the 2014 electorate:



Follow the conference and tweet using the hashtag #uspol_lpd

Discover Inside American Politics Speaker: Maria Cino

by Opheli Garcia Lawler, NYU Florence Student

Maria Cino is an Italian American who grew up in Buffalo, New York. She has held numerous impressive positions within the United States government, some of which were by appointment from George W. Bush. She most recently held the position of Deputy Chairwoman for the Republican National Committee. Newsmax Magazine has named Maria Cino one of the 25 most influential women in the GOP. Her twitter bio says “Conservative. Republican. Catholic. 30 years experience in all things RNC/GOP.” She currently serves as the Vice President of Hewlett Packard for America and U.S. government relations.

See her address the Republican National Convention in 2008: