Documentary, Interviews, Photojournalism

Lorenzo Moscia’s Haiti

An Italian lawyer turned photojournalist found himself at the centre of international peace-keeping efforts in Haiti. WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES

“It was inconceivable to my father that he would end up with a son who wanted to pursue a career in the arts,” says photographer Lorenzo Moscia. Like many of his father’s generation in Italy, having lost nearly everything to the Second World War, the aftermath thrust him into manhood, and having to provide financial support to his struggling, large family of siblings.

By the time his father had become a grown man himself, married, with a child of his own, he had worked tirelessly for many decades. So it’s not surprising that Lorenzo, his only child, would be raised to prize hard graft.

Lorenzo’s upbringing in Rome was fairly typical, albeit lonesome – a constant quest for friendships. His parents relocated within Rome when he was 11, and he suddenly found himself starting a new school across town – the local Catholic school – surrounded by nothing but male priests. “It was the longest period of boredom I have ever experienced,” he says. This was alleviated somewhat by his parents’ purchase of a VHS camcorder in 1987. “I started making short films and would rope my cousins into taking part. At the time I wanted to become a filmmaker.”

But Lorenzo lacked the conviction to match his passion and decided to study law instead, not least because university would postpone his inevitable conscription into the Italian military. “I followed the case of Gerry Conlon and the Guildford Four closely while I was studying law; I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Gareth Peirce.” Peirce was the human rights lawyer who successfully defended the Guildford Four after what is regarded as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British history.

He took a much-needed study break in the summer of 1997 and travelled to Easter Island, one of the most isolated islands in the world. He was planning to make a short film about the islanders – the Rapa Nui – a population back then of some 2500 people of Polynesian descent who, despite having no documented history, maintain their distinct centuries-old heritage. “My friend told me I’d be mad not to take a camera on such a trip as this, so I bought a second-hand 1978 Nikon FE, a 24mm and 50mm lens, 20 rolls of film and set off to Easter Island – ‘Isla de Pascua’ – via Santiago in Chile.”

Captivated by the gentility of the islanders and the sheer scale of the moai – some 800-plus monolithic statues of giant heads and torsos dotted around the World Heritage isle – he started documenting the lives of the indigenous people, conducting short interviews with the locals. But the filmmaking came to an abrupt end when, while sat on a rock next to the sea, an angry wave slammed into him, engulfing him and ruining his video equipment. “I had to resort to taking pictures, and that was really the start of my career as a photojournalist,” he says.

He had befriended a Rapa Nui family who soon invited him into their lives; together they rode bareback to the north coast, where they’d pitch camp in caves near the sea. Then they’d fish, swim, build fires, and eat. “I’d almost completely lost track of time when I was with them, and I only ever pulled out my camera if something caught my eye.” He returned to his studies in Italy a changed man.