Honduras Through His Lens


On his neck, among the many other tattoos covering his body, Carlos "El Bestia" Alberto has tattooed the phrase, "Forgive me mother." Carlos was one of the leaders of Mara 18 in San Pedro Sula, a city in Northern Honduras. Today he's in prison for homicide, and still has 17 years to serve. That was where Nanni Fontana took his photograph for his collection "Violence in Honduras," a reportage he did in the Central American country. Nanni is 36 years old, he graduate from Bocconi in 2001 and he currently works as a news photographer traveling around the world and doing photo collections with a social message. 

Fontana portrait
Nanni Fontana (photo by Michele Casagrande)

Nanni didn't always see himself as a photographer. "I actually started rather late. When I was in my third year of university I took a trip to Mongolia and my father lent me his camera. That's where it all started." His first individual show came during his years as a student at Bocconi, with an exhibit called "Antica Melphicta: Holy Week," dedicated to the traditional processions in Molfetta and curated by one of the big names in Milanese photography, Toni Nicolini. "So Bocconi gave me an education in economics, but, in a certain sense, it also christened my professional career in photography," says Nanni Fontana. In 2001 he graduated with a degree in Economics and Finance, with a thesis that already showed his interest in social issues: a paper on economic history on the "construction of consent in totalitarian regimes." Two and a half years working at his father's company, "just to make some money to be able to take photos" and then the big jump into the world of professional photography. Between 2004 and 2008 he collaborated with the agencies Fotogramma and Prospekt in Milan and the World Picture Network in New York. "Working for agencies, I started working on Milan and Italy, then on news from Europe and then international news. Having attended Bocconi was useful: knowledge of economics allowed me to get to some news before other colleagues of mine." Then, in 2009, he decided to become an independent photographer, to follow what had emerged as his real interest in the field of photography: social reportage sessions for international organizations and associations.

It's his work for non-profits, often producing sessions that can then support their awareness campaigns, which brought him to Honduras for the first time. There, in the summer of 2008, he took a series of photographs for the non-profit company Imagine, in Rome, which document the terrible healthcare situation in Moskitia, a region in Honduras and Nicaragua where 75% of the population lives in poverty. "This was one of my first big jobs and the first time that allowed me to find new clients. The majority of my work today is with cooperatives. I don't work much with publishing." Even so, some of his reportage sessions often end up on the pages of various international magazines, such as a reportage on the McDonald's production chain in Emilia Romagna, published by the Guardian and Fortune Magazine. Talking about employment issues through images is another element that drives Nanni Fontana's creativity: "For awhile I followed the trend of food production, I took pictures of work in Asahi beer factories in Japan, tea fields in India, but also artisanal production of salami in Lomellina."

But the photo sessions that left their mark on Nanni the most were those he did in Honduras, where he has gone a number of times. During one of his visits he focused on local gang violence. "There were groups that had begun developing in the '90s and were created by members of American gangs deported from the US at that time." Mara 18 or Barrio 18, for example, was created by taking the Eighteen Street gang from Los Angeles. "These people, thrown out of the United States, just reconstructed their lifestyle in Honduras and other countries of origin, becoming workers in narcotics trafficking." It was an explosive situation, as demonstrated by the numbers that Nanni Fontana himself cites as a supplement to his photographs: "In 2008 Honduras recorded a pro capita homicide rate of 59.7 for every 100,000 citizens, a rate which had increased by 25% over the previous year and which is the second highest in the world." Nanni's images also immortalize various gang members in prison, including the former member of Mara 18, Carlos Alberto. "The world of gangs had already been focused on by other photographers in El Salvador and Guatemala, but no one had worked in Honduras," explains Fontana. The photographs, published by the freelance photography magazine Private were also exhibited on various occasions.

Nanni, who just finished working on the first part of a project on youth in the Mediterranean region, is working on several projects at the moment: another project with the non-profit Imagine, with which he also completed a reportage in the Democratic Republic of Congo on maternal and infant health, another on AIDS, to propose to other clients in the future. "This last one is a big project that will be developed in Thailand, where I just visited, Brazil, Mozambique and the Ukraine. It's a project that, if I can get funding, will require another year and a half of work."

by Andrea Celauro
Translated by Jenna Walker

Foto La Moskitia

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