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Features / The Graduates 2019

Pablo Di Prima’s searing portraits tell the intimate backstories of his subjects

Words:

Jenny Brewer

Photography:

Pablo di Prima

Though he’s only just graduated, Pablo Di Prima’s unnervingly accomplished portfolio wouldn’t look out of place in the National Portrait Gallery. His compelling photographs of people from around the world look beneath the surface of appearance and examine the identity, history and experiences of his subjects. who he sees as “the people I imagine being in another life”. In that way, he looks for eclecticism in the people he chooses to portray, from Colombian teenagers and members of rural Ethiopian communities, to his friends from Central Saint Martins.

The photographer, who originally studied graphic design, attributes his search for uniqueness to his upbringing, growing up a redhead in an Italian family in Barcelona. Feeling like an outsider, he quickly became fascinated by the concept of “being different”, especially in the context of youth. His images, as a result, paint a picture of humanity in all its beautiful multiplicity.

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It’s Nice That: Why did you decide to study graphic communication, and what led you to you focus on photography and film?

Pablo Di Prima: Since I was a kid I found my best form of expression was through drawing. This propensity received a lot of stimuli from family and friends, and this emotion made me keep on going in my following years of youth. Because of this, when I had to choose the kind of university I wanted to attend, I thought of going to an art university. I heard the best from Central Saint Martins so that’s where I went. Once there I realised the enormous variety of artistic practices that this university could offer, and the specialisation that seemed the most responsive to my desires was Graphic Communication with Moving Image. CSM was a platform to emerge into a contemporary, cosmopolitan world.

The choice to study graphic design seems obscured to me now. At the time I was quite comfortable with graphics and it seemed like the obvious path forward. Naturally, circumstances change in the span of four years, especially in an environment as stimulating as CSM. Now, I have come to understand photography and film as the mediums through which I can best explore questions of identity and personality. It’s an inherently social practice, and one I find to be personally enriching. 

Ask me in another four years, though, and my answer might change entirely. It’s very important to me to put out the message that it’s necessary to have the courage to experiment and try new things. Sometimes you can be mistaken and that’s totally fine.

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INT: What is the most important thing you learned at university, and what didn’t you like about it?

PDP: The thing I didn’t like about university ended up being the most important for me. There’s a quote from Oliviero Toscani that responds very well to my argument: “Se vuoi essere un fotografo migliore non cercare il consenso.” In English this means that if you want to be a better photographer, don’t look for approval. At a certain point, it becomes necessary to create your conception of success. It is all too common to surrender a part of your vision to the influence of others. In this way, CSM taught me to remain honest and coherent to the standards I set for myself and my work. There’s an incredible freedom in this.

Truthfully, I found the most difficult part of university was to realise things about myself that I didn’t like. At the same time, this is a necessary step along the path to self-acceptance. I hope that through my work people are able to experience exactly this. I recently came across a quote by David Foster Wallace that summed up my thoughts: “Although of course you end up becoming yourself.”

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“I photograph the people I imagine being in a life different from my own”

Pablo Di Prima

INT: You’ve previously spoken a lot about how your childhood has shaped your outlook on the diversity of humankind. How does that influence who you choose to photograph?

PDP: Certainly my childhood and background are present in every photograph I take – how could they not be? As a result, I choose to photograph the people I imagine being in a life different from my own. It provides an enriching opportunity to see the depth and diversity to the people I am fortunate to call my friends.

In a sense, I aim to photograph someone not just as they appear in the present, but with a consideration for their own pasts. That’s one of my main goals for the project, and it requires a sense of intimacy and closeness with every person who stands before my camera. 

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INT: What do you aim to convey in your photographs?

PDP: I desire to achieve photographs that reveal not just the physical subject but images that demonstrate the personality, thoughts and beliefs of the people I photograph. I think that each photographer should allow the subject to come to know themselves in a way they might have never imagined before.

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INT: What would be your dream project?

PDP: My dream is to showcase my latest project in a gallery, with the photographed people, to see if they recognise themselves in the representation I have made of them.

I hope that this project will be publicly released with all the portraits I have made because I think all of them have something special to be told. I cannot wait to show you!

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