Category: Journalism

The Craft of the Interview: How to Get People to Tell You Everything You Want to Know

Journalist and author Imma Vitelli is back for a second dialogue, “The Craft of the Interview: How to Get People to Tell You Everything You Want to Know.” She will discuss her experience interviewing smugglers, prime ministers, monks and Afghan generals, and give tips on how to approach interviews based on each unique subject. The dialogue will be held from 6-8 p.m. March 2 in Villa Sassetti. She will follow the dialogue with an interview techniques workshop for NYU Florence students on March 3 at 4 p.m. and a follow up meeting on March 4, with time to be decided by the group. Read more


I was in third grade the first time I can remember being dehumanized. I was standing with two boys my age on the green hardtop of the tennis court at my local athletic center. Being there was my attempt to dispel the notion among my classmates that I was un-athletic, a pervasive opinion that had made me feel like an outsider. It must have been two weeks into camp and I found two boys, Barrett and Nathaniel, who liked Star Wars, so I hung around them during the time when we weren’t slamming green fuzzy Dunlop balls over nets repeatedly. The conversation made its way to playdate potential. Read more

Rocco Rorandelli Interview with NYU Florence student Michelle Deme

NYU Florence’s Michelle Deme interviews Rocco Rorandelli, documentary photographer and founder of the TerraProject Collective.  Rorandelli’s “drone’s eye view” of the refugee trail in Europe has brought an interesting perspective and contribution to the crisis’ coverage.  His work is one of many in La Pietra Dialogues’ The Migration Crisis in Europe Through Images series, curated by NYU Florence professor and professional photographer Alessandra Capodacqua.

Migration From a Bird’s Eye View: A Reflection

I own a camera and can barely make it function. I have often daydreamed about becoming a famous photographer (emphasis on “dream” because of my complete lack of artistic ability). I love the idea of telling a story through photographs, which is why Rocco Rorandelli’s talk, The Refugee Trail, at New York University Florence was so inspiring.

Rorandelli’s presentation was the first of a three-dialogue documentary photography series, The Migration Crisis in Europe Through Images (Alessandro Penso will speak on April 18 and Henk Wildschut on April 27). Rorandelli’s work has been featured in publications such as Le Monde Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair. The most interesting thing about him is that he found success as a photographer and never had any formal training as one – he got his doctorate in biology.

This particular collection documents the refugee crisis through aerial photographs, taken with a camera placed on a drone. Rorandelli traveled the path from Greece to Germany that so many of these migrants have walked before, crossing borders at Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia. He had to obtain permission to use his drone from these countries’ governments, and it was not always granted to him (in these cases he snuck away from the military personnel and used it anyway).

Something Rorandelli said about human communication really stuck with me: “The first thing we look for (are) eyes.” In these pictures, “we aren’t seeing eyes.” The people he photographed are very real, but his camera’s point of view dehumanizes them. Rorandelli chose to photograph from above because he wanted to take a unique approach to a subject that has been already been documented. The people in his photographs become part of a collective story, rather than having their own. To the viewer, they are groups traipsing through mud or walking on a litter-strewn road, not faces or personalities. In a few rare cases people stare up at the sky, intrigued by the drone snapping pictures above them. Only then do we see their eyes, and we are left questioning who they are.

Documentary Photography as a Powerful Form of Social Activism

In 2015 alone more than one million refugees and migrants fleeing conflicts and poverty across the Middle East and Africa entered into Europe. This has provoked an immigration crisis as European countries attempt to cope with the influx of people. For many of us, this may be just an abstract concept discussed by news outlets, but the aim of the upcoming dialogue series, entitled The Migration Crisis in Europe Through Images, hosted by La Pietra Dialogues, is to present the crisis through the lens of documentary photography and to put human faces on the issue. Three visiting photographers have traced the long, and often dangerous, journey of the people who brave many miles and obstacles to actualize their GOAL OF of reaching safe sanctuary. They will talk about their work and share their experiences with students and other guests.

The first speaker, Rocco Rorandelli, began with documentary photography after his doctoral studies in biology, which helped to influence his interest in global, social, and environmental issues. His work has been presented in awareness campaigns run by both intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, as well as certain international magazines such as Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. Rorandelli wanted to try a new approach to documenting the migrants’ journey, so he turned to aerial photography in an attempt to portray the crisis as a phenomenon rather than to tell the stories of individuals. This dialogue, The Refugee Trail, is taking place in Villa Sassetti on February 11th at 6:00 pm.

The next speaker in the series is Alessandro Penso who has spent his photography career deeply committed to social issues. His portfolio includes work on the conditions of detention centers in Malta, migrant workers in the agricultural sector of the Italian South, and, most recently, the immigration issue in the Mediterranean. Penso is acutely aware that complicated economic and social conditions in the Mediterranean region provide an environment where for cultural closure, xenophobia and violence can exist. He has won several awards for his photos, including TIME Magazine’s Pick for Photo Story of the Year. Penso’s dialogue, Lost Generation, will be on April 18th at 6:00 pm in Villa Sassetti.

The last speaker of the series is Henk Wildschut, a Dutch photographer whose work is often distant and contemplative in nature. This is meant to create an image of monumentality and balance and to provoke further contemplation upon the part of the viewer. His work has been displayed all over the world, as well as in Dutch and international magazines. In 2005, Wildschut began a project focused on European immigration. This resulted in both a film and an award-winning book. After taking on various other projects, Wildschut has returned to the subject of immigration by focusing on a refugee camp in Calais. This work will result in an exhibit at the museum Foam in Amsterdam in 2016. His dialogue, entitled Shelter, will take place on April 27th at 6:00 pm in Villa Sassetti.

Nathalie Handel’s Perspective on Conflict

On September 24, La Pietra Dialogues hosted a tea with Nathalie Handal and two other well known poets. Handal was raised in Latin America, France, and the Arab world, and educated in America and the United Kingdom. She is the author of a large collection of poetry books including Poet in Andalucía, The Republics, and Love and Strange Horses. Her work has won several awards, including the Gold Medal Independent Publisher Book Award, PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Book Award, Alejo Zuloaga Order in Literature and garnered praise from prestigious publications. She has made international appearances as a lecturer and cultural diplomat for the U.S. State Department. Handal has also worked on over twenty theatrical productions either as a playwright, director or producer. She is now based in New York City and Paris, and is a professor at Columbia University and part of the low-residency MFA Faculty at Sierra Nevada College. The Villa Ulivi and La Pietra Dialogues Libraries are pleased to have signed copies of three of Nathalie Handel’s books, excerpts of which have been selected and shown below to reflect the tumultuous state of the world.

To read some of Natalie Handal’s poetry  Read more

Media Freedom Under Putin’s Russia

When the Berlin wall came down there was a great sense of hope among the Russian people that democracy would prevail in their country. Unfortunately, however, Russia today is far from democratic. President Vladimir Putin is currently serving his 3rd term as president after winning a highly controversial election. As president, Putin has greatly reduced Russian freedom of the press. With limited media freedom, the power of democracy is hampered. Russian journalists fear criticising Putin, and so their work is often uncritical and inaccurate, leaving the citizens uninformed and vulnerable to state propaganda. As a consequence, Russian public discourse is distorted, crippling democracy.

Zygmunt Dzieciolowski has reported on the affairs of Russia and former Soviet States for over 25 years and participated in a riveting dialogue about the limitations to Russia’s press freedom. The Russian constitution states that “everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of ideas and speech”, that has not, however, been the case, with Dzieciolowski even dismissing the Russian constitution as “Just a piece of paper”. The sad reality is that media is tightly controlled by Putin’s dictatorial regime. Read more

A Great Lack in Media Freedom

Our dialogue on September 8th began with an introduction and a laugh when Zygmunt Dzieciolowski joked that he would have to spend the first five minutes of his chat just teaching the audience how to properly pronounce his name. His  humor and charisma carried over into the rest of the dialogue as he went on to explain the problems that face much of the modern media in Russia, derived from systematic governmental oppression. The most striking image Dzieciolowski used to convey the situation is that of a tea kettle: in order to avoid a pressure explosion, the Russian government allows a few dissenting media outlets to survive as a way to vent steam, but still the majority of information available to the citizens is blatant propaganda of an anti-American variety. Such limited information has bred harsh anti-American sentiment among the Russian people as they are led to believe grand conspiracies that feature the United States as the villain.
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