PAOLO WOODS. IN HEAVEN WITH GABRIELE GALIMBERTI
by Rocco Venezia


'The Heavens' by Gabriele Galimberti and Paolo Woods is a visual research about our globalised economy. Using an artistic approach for a documentary subject, the two authors have been travelling from Singapore to the British Virgin Islands, from the Cayman Islands to the Netherlands, to investigate and disclose what tax heavens are and how they look like. In the following conversation with Paul Woods, I had the pleasure to discover more about their project and their collaboration.

Tell me about your background, how did you met the first time and how did your collaboration started? How is it working as a "couple"?

Paolo Woods (PW): It has been almost 20 years now that we know each other, we first met in a photography school were I was teaching while Gabriele was still a student even if we had almost the same age. First of all we become friends, soon after we started to work on several things, from a laboratory for b&w to running a gallery, nowadays we are both part of RIVERBOOM a collective composed by 5 authors, and the Heaven has been actually our first project where we have been working so close together. I can’t be able to tell you who actually pushed the shutter release for each of the photographs, the important thing is that we where both there at the same time, it has been an homogenous experience where we shared a similar vision while putting emphasis on our own interests. I can conclude by saying that making this work, simply would not have been possible for just the one of us.


© Gabriele Galimberti/Paolo Woods from the series 'The Heavens'

As you stated in several interviews, the idea for this project was inspired by a joke made by Galimberti ( he thought he should have hided his money in the Cayman Islands to avoid giving half of it to the Italian state) can you tell me what was the first conceptualisation out of this feeling and can you describe the early steps in your research process.

PW: From the moment we thought “wow this might actually be a great idea for a project” to the really first time we started to work on it, almost six months went by, and in those six months we started researching on the subject, looking at what kind of photographs were made or which stories had been published. There was a lot of literatures and written articles from the social, economic and criminal point of view, while there was very little in terms of visual materials, so it has been at this point that we first felt that we really wanted to show how these places looked like.


© Gabriele Galimberti/Paolo Woods from the series 'The Heavens'


© Gabriele Galimberti/Paolo Woods from the series 'The Heavens'

With this project you facing the challenge of visually representing a story full of data and numbers, a story based on the anonymity and invisibility of its main “players”. Can you tell us more about the photographic approach used in order to represent the story and how the use of large format camera was important for the process.

PW: Firstly, in a story like this, which is obviously not visual or spectacular, we felt that the research process, had to be the foundation of the project. We were sure about the fact that,the more each of the images were informed the more they became interesting, and the more we knew the more we could look and recognise things. I would like to make an example: Try to imagine you are walking in a field and you see two different butterflies, one green and blue. I am sure you will be impress by their colours first of all and you will be able to notice their differences on the surface, but if you are an lepidopterists (someone that studies butterflies) and you are aware that one of them is actually of a particular kind and extremely rare, you can appreciate it in a different way because you have a certain knowledge, I believe this happens for tax heavens too. When you know how they works, understand what they implies, realise who are the main actors, when then you actually see these people and visit these places you are able to see more. Secondly we decided we wanted to use the same language of the world we were describing. So for example we played around the idea of artificial, with a very clean look, so far away from photojournalism and a lot closer to apologetic images that you can find in glossy magazine. We considered the 4x5 camera perfect for this purpose: it slowed the process down but also, because it looked really professional from the outside, when we had to directing these people they thought we were giving them a lot of importance and this really facilitated all the process.


© Gabriele Galimberti/Paolo Woods from the series 'The Heavens'


© Gabriele Galimberti/Paolo Woods from the series 'The Heavens'

The book you produced simulated the annual report of 'The Heavens LLC', a company that you actually registered in Delaware. In the volume, text plays an important role, captions becomes key for the final reading of the pictures, can you chose an image to give an example please ?

PW: I am a very deep believer in how texts and images can work together, and in this project it became even more crucial. While we were taking pictures we were often imagining the caption. With this combination we wanted to solicit thoughts from our viewers, so usually once they have looked at the photograph they want to know more so they go to the caption, they receive certain amount of information and then naturally they go back to the image. In this way, they can look at the photograph from a different prospective and they are usually able to see something completely different.


Images of the French edition 'Les Paradis: Rapport Annuel Paolo Woods & Gabriele Galimberti', published by Delpire, 2015

To give and example we can look at this particular image: opulence, luxury, old money, classy are all elements we clearly perceive by looking at this image. When you go to the caption you realise she is Fiona Woolf, the Lord Mayor of The City of London which is in many ways the brain of the tax heaven system, here you have the city in a city, the state in a state, the place where the citizens count less then enterprises, where laws and regulations are made from corporations for corporations. So was interesting to see the most powerful person within the system and photograph this 70s lady with her pr person really concern about her pr aspects, which is a big aspect in the spin tax heaven trow around on what their activities really are about.


© Gabriele Galimberti/Paolo Woods from the series 'The Heavens'

2016 has been the year of Panama Papers, the biggest leak from off-shores financial records in recent years. The ICIJ, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, work exposed documents from private individuals as well as politicians and public officials from several countries of the globe. All these raised a certain awareness on this huge subject, your project does that to, even more, being a visual representation of the issue can be seen as a more accessible form of learning for the public. What was your initial goal when you started this body of work? Can you consider yourself as a kind of unintentional activists?

PW: It’s a delicate question. My first thought is that I do not consider myself an activist, because that’s not for me to say, I definitely consider myself a journalist a person which his work is to investigate. The danger of being an activist and a journalist at the same time is too big for me, I obviously have my opinions and I think they come across quite clearly in the work, but the border between an activist and a journalist is a thin and dangerous one. But to answer your question I worked with ICIJ during the project and being told about Panama Paper almost one year before Panama Papers was released. At ICIJ they are both journalists with an activist agenda and I was extremely happy to work with them, but I believe our products are different because what ICIJ did was to share information with thousand or hundreds of different medias, researching and checking documents for then reconstruct the meaning behind the actual papers. I would say that both me and Galimberti are particular happy when we see people attending our shows or looking and reading our book coming away with an increased awareness that this is a huge problem and has to be tackled. The biggest compliment we received was when we showed the work in Arles, many who attended had a lot of hunger towards this theme, so they thanked us for having shown them these problems from such a different point of view. So back again to your question, in that sense yes, by bringing something out I can be considered an activist. But to conclude I want to be clear: we haven't started with an agenda, I do not have an agenda, I am interested basically in how something works, I am not there to repair it, I am there to expose and show how it works and what the consequences are.


© Gabriele Galimberti/Paolo Woods from the series 'The Heavens'


© Gabriele Galimberti/Paolo Woods from the series 'The Heavens'

What next? Can we expect a new collaboration any time soon?

PW: Yes, we are collaborating on a new project, we can’t speak about it publicly yet because it is still in an early stage, I just can say that will be a documentary work that will involve filming as well as photography and will become also a book, we have just returned from India, one of the places where we have been working on this idea, but I am not yet sharing what the idea is.


© Gabriele Galimberti/Paolo Woods from the series 'The Heavens'


© Gabriele Galimberti/Paolo Woods from the series 'The Heavens'

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LINKS
Paolo Woods  
Gabriele Galimberti 
The Heavens. A global Company (project website)
Book The Heavens (English version by Dewi Lewis | French version by Delpire, 2015)