Ruben Salvadori started taking photographs about four years ago as a way to understand culture and human behaviour. Now, the 22-year-old Italian Jewish student is an award-winning photographer.
After finishing high school, Salvadori moved from Italy to Israel, to attend the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he majored in international relations and anthropology.
For Ruben, Jerusalem was a natural choice. “I wanted to be somewhere interesting and in a good university. I was mainly curious about human behaviour, and Israel is the perfect place to observe it, due to its very diverse society,” he said.
Salvadori’s studies deepened his desire to understand society and the people around him, and after his first year at university, he began to explore new ways to observe and connect with people.
“I grabbed a crappy camera and started shooting. I guess at the beginning it was out of the naive need to look for some sort of universal language since I was struggling with learning Hebrew,” he said.
When his first experiments with photography yielded positive results, Salvadori began to take it more seriously.
He found himself especially drawn to documentary projects, although he said they are more difficult than many other types of photography.
Salvadori, the director of photography for a 2011 documentary called Inside Jerusalem, said that documentaries offer “deeper research into a specific issue, that forces you to [gain] a better understanding of what you’re facing, as well as creating a stronger relationship between the photographer and the subject.”
Salvadori is best known for his Photojournalism Behind the Scenes series, a set of photographs documenting how media images are produced and showing the quest for drama in photojournalism.
He did this by going to conflict areas in Israel and taking a dramatic shot of the scene first, using angles and a frame selection that would create an image of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that you might see in any newspaper.
He then also shot the same situation with a wider frame that included the horde of photojournalists who were present at the scene.
In the first picture set of the series, the viewers see a young Palestinian man with rags covering his face, except for his eyes. The man stands in front of a pile of flaming cardboard and rocks. He looks to be in the middle of a big battle. In the next shot, a wider frame, the viewer sees six photojournalists taking a photograph of the man, who is revealed to be standing alone in a mostly empty street.
The intensely dramatic, and esthetically pleasing, shot of the Palestinian man in battle is really just a posed moment that seems to have been intended to attract the media.
Salvadori explained that putting these images side by side shows the ability that photojournalists have to manipulate a situation with only a camera lens. He added that the public is accustomed to seeing these distorted photographs in the news and that less-dramatic shots showing the reality of the situation are considered boring.
This demand for drama leaves many photojournalists in a bind, forcing them to choose between selling dramatic photos that distort the truth and taking pictures of reality, which won’t sell.
Though compromising one’s ethics to get a foot in the door of the photojournalism business may be a tempting offer to some, Salvadori said shooting the Behind the Scenes series cemented his belief in the importance of thinking before taking a photo.
“The project definitely helped me understand more about what I want to be and what I do not want to be,” he said.
Behind the Scenes earned Salvadori the Forma Foundation’s Photodreaming Contest prize in Italy, and a video showing his presentation of the project received up to 20,000 hits per day when it was posted online.
Although many people praised him for his brave and revealing work, Salvadori found that some of his colleagues took the project as unfair criticism.
“Some photojournalists, especially the ones that do not conceive the fact that our presence has an influence on the events, took it as a personal offence,” he said.
Behind the Scenes’ popularity and the importance of its message made it one of Salvadori’s favourite projects to work on, but the range of subjects he has covered includes everything from Tibetans living in China to Jerusalem’s drag queens.
When asked about his influences, Salvadori said that there’s not one specific photographer that stands out.
“I like to get ‘contaminated’ by different styles and photographers, and see what I can do to improve my work by mixing it with new ways to do photography,” he explained.
Right now, Salvadori is taking a break from his studies and is in Italy working with two other photographers on a project about Italians who have found motivation in the recession. He is also putting together a multimedia documentary about a religious ritual of self-flagellation in a small town in Southern Italy.
For Salvadori, a picture is good if it has meaning and visual appeal for the audience, no matter what the subject is. “It has to reach the public. I don’t like those pieces that only the author understands or feels.”
Salvadori is planning to tour Canadian universities in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa later this month to speak about his Behind the Scenes project. Updates will be posted on his website, www.rubensalvadori.com.
Check out a video of Salvadori talking about his Photojournalism Behind the Scenes series at http://tinyurl.com/77qua7t.