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Maternal Health as Seen Through One Amazing Man's Lens

November 01, 2016

Maternal Health as Seen Through One Amazing Man's Lens

September 17, 2012.
by A.E.Cote

Paolo Patruno is a gifted photographer. He has spent years raising awareness for maternal health, by taking some amazing photographs. Maternova recently had the rare opportunity to ask Paolo some questions about his important work. It is certainly worth taking the time to read.

M: Paolo, were you always a gifted photographer? Is it what you had planned for a career?
P: No, I started and worked as an engineer for more than 10 years, but I have always taken pictures. After my first visit in Africa in 2004 I started sharing and using my pictures to show and document stories from the “black continent” till when I realized I could have used my photography skills to produce images able to support the most vulnerable people, to give them a voice through my images and my documentary work. That’s why I decided to start my career as a humanitarian/social and documentary photographer.

M: What was the inspiration for your focus on Maternal Health worldwide?
P: In 2011 when I was in Malawi I met an English midwife (Rachel MacLeod) who practiced for nearly 14 years in Spain before moving to Malawi to work as a clinical midwife in the labor ward of the Bwaila Hospital, in the capital Lilongwe.
She introduced and explained me the maternal health matter; I also had the opportunity to visit public and private hospitals, health centers in rural areas, looking at the facilities conditions, where the nurses and midwives daily job is to save mothers and child lives.
I attended trainings for nurses and midwives, community awareness campaigns on safe motherhood matter. I visited women in rural villages at their homes together with midwives.
All these experiences raised me awareness on how much complex is pregnancy and childbirth topic.
Moreover, as I’ve traveled in Africa from almost ten years, I know very well how much the role of women is important not only for single families, but for communities as well.
So, a mother's death is a human tragedy, affecting families and communities. Her death endangers the lives of a surviving newborn and any other young children; a mother's death makes it harder for the family to obtain life's necessities and escape the crush of poverty.
That’s why, as a humanitarian and documentary photographer, I felt to have a duty to use my camera to show and convey awareness about the maternity crisis.

M: Was there anything that surprised you about what you found that first trip in Malawi?
P: I’ve been working and documenting health matters several time, but In Malawi I had the opportunity to approach and know the maternity matter for the first time. What surprised more I’ve experienced and learnt was the fact women live most of their maternity, mainly the deliver period, alone, without any physical and psychological support from their husbands and partners.
And I believe that makes even harder for women to approach delivering, a moment that in most of the African countries is considered a moment in which anything can happens, where women are between death and life.

M: Now you’re headed to India, to document in photos the maternal mortality crisis, what prompted this trip?
P: My project has started and is focused mainly on the maternity crisis in Africa, as I’m traveling in this continent from almost ten years and I think after having received so much from my experiences, from people I met in Africa, the moment to give back was arrived.
But maternity crisis exists in every developing country worldwide.
So I decided to extend my project in every country I will have to opportunity to visit.
And India will be an extraordinary opportunity, as it has, together with Nigeria, the highest maternal mortality rate worldwide.

M: With everything you’ve seen globally, have you noticed any big differences in treatment options for women and newborns? We find that sharing information for lifesaving technologies is slow to travel from country to country. Do you agree?
P: Yes I totally agree with you. I’ve seen big differences not only from country to country, but even between different places and areas in the same country. And, as you know very well, you find huge differences, even in the same town, between public and private health facilities. In developing countries the public health system is usually very poor and inadequate, most of the time supported only thanks to private funds from Aid / Humanitarian Organizations/Donors; that makes very difficult or even impossible to have and share information and lifesaving technologies.
So you’ll find a “lucky” place where donors have decided to implement projects and just few kilometers far where health facilities don’t have even electric power or running water.

M: In the United States especially, we seem to think this type of lack of even basic medical care doesn’t exist. Do you have anything to say about that?
P: Not only in US, in Italy too; and I think also almost in every developed countries.
That is exactly the reason why I decided to use my camera for a social purpose; when people asked me why I decided to start my career as a professional photographer, I always say that I could never become a photographer except for a social photographer. Images are more powerful than words. And I feel the duty to use my camera to let people know what the still ignore.

M: In your opinion, do you feel women are valued as contributing members of society for the places you’ve visited?
P: It depends from each country; as far as is concerned my personal experiences, in most of the places women have the main responsibilities not only in families but also in the communities where they live; but they definitely don’t receive right value for their contribution.

M: What is the one person you wish you could photograph? (Living or dead)
P: There is no one specific person I wish. Somebody said: photographers don’t live as rich in life, but they can live a rich life. That is totally true ! I mean, to go around, to have the opportunity to meet and getting close to new people, it’s always an amazing experience. So it doesn’t matter who I’m going to photograph next time, as I’m sure it will make my soul richer than today.

M: Who are your heroes?
P: I met a lot of heroes during my traveling and working as a humanitarian photographer. I think every woman I met is definitely an hero, able to face with dignity and huge strength adversities and issues of their life.

M: Are you planning on any other galleries? What’s next after India?
P: I really hope to have the opportunity to go ahead with my project about maternity; I wish to tell more stories, also the positive stories, so to show that even in developing countries the poetry of maternity exists.

We asked him for his autograph... but he declined saying his work is what he wants to focus on. However, we were able to acquire a rare photograph of Paolo, which is featured here. The Maternova team is delighted to have the opportunity to showcase the work of this remarkable humanitarian. Paolo, we salute you! Thank you for all you do for women.

Please visit Paolo's website to view more of his simply brilliant work:

© 2012, All Rights Reserved ¦ maternova.net

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