“I have always been interested in the changes between generations, how young people are dealing with the new challenges that present themselves,” explains photographer Giacomo Cosua.
Born in Venice, Giacomo has travelled widely as a documentary photographer and editor of the photography-led Posi+tive Magazine. He’s lived in Berlin and London and spent months embedded in a variety of different communities, from the marine activists of the Sea Shepherd to multicultural teenage skaters in Brussels, but what always catches his attention is the way young people from different communities are drawn together by the same hopes, fears and spirit of resistance.
His new solo show at London’s Union Gallery, I’m Not Afraid draws together nearly a decade of editorial work documenting communities of young people around the globe, revealing the variety of ways they express their defiance – whether it’s through a stolen kiss, sparking a spliff or smashing through a store window.
“We have so many stereotypes about young people,” Giacomo explains. “Stories about youth in the media often feature such negative language, like ‘crisis’, ‘joblessness’, ‘apathy’, etc. But how are young people really living their day-to-day lives? This is what I have been driven to document, looking at how young people are exploring solutions – or just expressing themselves, having fun.”
Giacomo feels young people are fighting for the chance to enjoy positive futures, battling against negative headlines, indifferent politicians, divisive social situations and dire economic circumstances. “There are lots of reasons for young people to be afraid of the future,” Giacomo explains. “The world is crazy. I’ve photographed people at violent protests or in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, for example, but what strikes me is the ability of young people to keep on doing what they do, keep on travelling, meeting people and coming together from vastly different backgrounds. Young people aren’t afraid, they keep on living free.”
Like all of his work, his coverage of the refugee crisis in Athens was thoughtful and gave his subjects a real voice. He spent time getting to know young Afghans and Syrians taking shelter alongside thousands of others in an abandoned airport. “They were coming from different cultures and facing resistance at every step of their journey, when they were just trying to find safety and better lives,” Giacomo explains. “They had just 20 Euros in their pockets, but they still had incredible dignity, they were defying the negative expectations about refugees and proudly displaying their individuality. In that context, their displays of friendship were a big statement.”
Giacomo prefers to spend the time getting to know his subjects, taking months learning how to connect with the communities he documents. He has long covered the rowdy Black Block protests; documented the life of a Latvian drug dealer he met at a rave through his ups and downs, before he was eventually deported home to Latvia, where Giacomo followed him to continue the story; he met young people raised with the separatist spirit in the surreal, unrecognised quasi-Soviet breakaway republic of Transnistria; and spent over a month with a multicultural band of skaters and musicians in the “radicalisation hotspot” of Brussels, who were defying the cultural divisions many would predict to drive them apart.
Wherever he goes, Giacomo is drawn to the people who are coming together to defy the expectations of the society around them – whether in overt political protest or partying, to carve out their own space in unsupportive environments. “It looks to me like this society at the moment is not really understanding what young people are saying or are asking for in different ways,” Giacomo explains. “Even the actions I can’t condone, like the Black Block protestors smashing things, are a way of saying, ‘I’m here, listen to me. If you don’t listen, I will do what I feel I should do until you see that I’m real and that I exist.’”
Giacomo Cosua’s I’m Not Afraid is open at Union Gallery, London, until 20 August 2016.