Are You Happy?


It’s not just the flagstones of Ancient Rome that are concealed beneath the asphalt of Via Prenestina, but the history of the city’s suburbs, too. In ancient times, gravestones, villas and farmsteads were once scattered here, in the fields of the Roman Campagna. Later, it became the story of the region’s settlement by the first workers employed in the new factories on the outskirts of Rome. It was the story of the construction of these borgate suburbs, created to channel the flow of people seeking their fortune in Rome. A story of large-scale social housing projects and of settlements illegally built. A story of constant new beginnings, of poverty, revolts, and modest levels of prosperity. Throughout the ages, the suburbs of Rome have been impacted by the influx of new people. Where once they came from Veneto and Sicily, they are now Bangladeshi, Chinese and Romani from south-eastern Europe. Are you happy? is a description of the situation as it is today in modern-day Rome. This particular work began during my scholarship residency at Villa Massimo in Rome, and it explores the urban fabric, the history, and the living environment around Via Prenestina.

‘I photograph people because I want to get to know them, because I want to find out more about them. I wait for something to stir within them: a particular attitude to life that I find here in the suburbs of Rome, a proximity, but also a sense of unfamiliarity. I need the intensity that occurs when two people open up, if only for a moment. My protagonists need the immediacy of my presence, but also a certain detachment from me that makes for a clear-eyed view in the first place, as for instance in the area around Via Prenestina between Porta Maggiore and the GRA orbital road. I’m now very familiar with this urban space, but I don’t live here. I’m the one detached from it all. And perhaps that’s also why something diffuse appears, an emotional quality, an underlying emotion, something inexpressible that emerges only in the interplay of the images.’

Göran Gnaudschun