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Emilio Morenatti: ‘I would give up the Pulitzer to have my leg back. I’d even burn my work’ | Culture

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Emilio Morenatti gets off the high-speed Barcelona-Madrid AVE train with his camera at the ready, even though he’s not on a job. The camera, he says, is his third arm. Dressed in a polo shirt and long pants, it’s impossible to tell he is missing his left leg.

Morenatti’s leg was blown off in 2009 by a bomb in Afghanistan when he was accompanying US troops on a mission that he was advised against going on.

The chief photographer for the Associated Press in Spain and Portugal is now waiting for a visa to enter the US and collect the Pulitzer Prize for his photos of the elderly and homeless in Barcelona during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Morenatti says he is proud that, after all the restrictions he had to work around in order to take them, his photos were displayed as part of a state tribute to Covid victims. If he feels at all bitter about the obstacles that were put in his path, it doesn’t show.

Question. Is the revenge sweet?

Answer. In a way, yes. The authorities that asked for the photos are the same ones who denied us photographers access to hospitals and cemeteries. I could have refused them, but I am more interested in exposing the hypocrisy. We live in an aseptic society that doesn’t want to see certain things. But I think with this pandemic, there’s been a click. Something has changed. If this means making people think, I feel I have done my job.

Q. The Pulitzer is like the Nobel Prize of its field. What now?

A. Just keep working. If losing a leg – with all the family, professional and self-imposed pressures that entailed – didn’t detract from my passion or distract me from pursuing my career, this won’t either, even less so. That’s what I want to shield against; I still don’t want to sit down and edit someone else’s photos.

Q. Did the loss of your leg alter your perspective?

A. Yes, in particular my approach to victims. I feel vulnerable now; I see my two-legged colleagues and I’m the only one with one leg and I feel envious. I don’t hide my disability and, when I portray the vulnerable, I take certain liberties, as one cripple to another. It gives you empathy and the freedom to push through certain barriers.

The beauty of a photo is about trapping the viewer; it’s like those carnivorous flowers that attract you with their colors and then ensnare you

Q. “From one cripple to another!” That’s good but also tough.

A. A lame guy who saw my prosthesis once said to me, “I’m going to talk to you as one cripple to another” and I thought it was a great idea. Because being lame is not only physical, it’s mental. I miss my leg every day. Disability causes friction, pain and frustration. My mind gets used to it, but I deal with it every day. Before, I would go for a walk without thinking. Now, every outing requires logistics. It is not easy. It’s a subject that interests me a lot. That’s why the limp comes through in some of my photos.

Q. During lockdown, you went out to visit the sick with health workers. Did you also give a bit of that side of yourself to the people you photographed?

A. It felt a bit like that, yes. The elderly were very much in need of company, of human contact, of someone to pay them a visit. The doctors made the visit, but I went with them. In the Pulitzer series, there is a photo in which an old woman holds the doctor’s hand and also my own, while I took her picture with the other one. She started telling us about her life. That is also therapy, isn’t it? We could feel that people needed that support. And me too, of course.

Q. Is the camera your shield or weapon?

A. It is a part of me. Sometimes it is a shield. I have been very moved by some of the photos I have taken; they have been moments of great intensity. I remember [nursing home residents] Agustina and Pascual’s kiss that made me cry and, right then, I do remember I was using the camera as a shield. But the question is what it would be like for me not to have the camera. And that is Murphy’s Law. The day you don’t take it out with you, something happens, and that really tortures me: the photos I haven’t taken.

Agustina Cañamero, 81, kisses her husband Pascual Pérez, 84, in a care home in Barcelona, on June 22, 2020.
Agustina Cañamero, 81, kisses her husband Pascual Pérez, 84, in a care home in Barcelona, on June 22, 2020.Emilio Morenatti / AP

Q. What are the images you can’t get out of your head?

A. I remember an explosion in Gaza that landed very close to us. Those bombs are enormously violent. Everything inside you moves. There is a moment of silence, because your eardrums are blocked, and then you see smoke, people running and people who can’t run because they are dead, wounded, dismembered. I go over these kinds of situations in my head. And when it happened to me, when my leg was blown off, I watched the man who gave me a tourniquet and saved my life as if it was happening in slow motion. That slowness is something that happens again and again in my life. It is all accompanied by smells, screams, pain, nausea, all of which will accompany you all your life because your photo will never match the level of violence of a situation like that.

Q. But it is the photo that remains when the situation is over.

A. That is the privilege of this profession. And that’s what keeps me tied to it. It’s a privilege like being a superhuman or superhero. I have been in extraordinary situations, and the commitment that one acquires from being there and documenting them is what makes you do your best and say: I’m going to do it better than anyone else, even better than myself. It’s pure adrenaline.

Q. You won’t remember, but I met you while you were working at the 1992 World Expo in Seville. You were a young photographer at that time with a reputation for partying.

A. No, I don’t remember you! You’ll have to show me a full-length photo of yourself from back then [laughs]. I was a kid. I was always hungover. I was consumed by the drive and arrogance of my 20s. I was born in Zaragoza because my father is a policeman and was stationed there, but I grew up in Jerez. We were a big family of modest means in a down-at-heel neighborhood. I didn’t know anything about photography or English at that time. I did a lot of crazy things. I photographed Lady Di at the Expo, I also took myself on the island of Perejil [over which a turf battle in 2002 between Spain and Morocco] in an inflatable boat, and that brazenness was the springboard for my call from Associated Press. I’ve been a bit of a kamikaze, but as far as I’m concerned surviving means squeezing the most out of things.

I don’t hide my disability and, when I portray the vulnerable, I take certain liberties, as one cripple to another

Q. Did you feel marginalized by journalists?

A. Very much so. And I still do. I see my children and I think: they are going to have everything I didn’t have. I learned to survive on the job. Then I tried to educate myself intellectually, and I continue to do so.

Q. Have you already taken your dream photo?

A. No, and it’s impossible to do so, because it would have been during the Spanish Civil War. I dream of the Battle of the Ebro, of having worked with [photographer Robert] Capa. I would have loved to do what I’m doing now at that decisive moment in Spanish history.

Q. Would you like to cover a red carpet event?

A. I think that would be a drag. I would do it, just as we photographers do other things we don’t like, but it doesn’t interest me at all, like soccer. That, for me, is not photojournalism, which I understand to be a reflection of society. That particular element of society already has too much attention and doesn’t need to be given more. I focus on places where attention is scarce. My mission is to make visible…

Q. … what we don’t want to see?

A. Yes, so that it is discussed and not forgotten. And that’s where I think the language used has to be intelligent, because if not, there’s rejection. The beauty of a photo is about trapping the viewer; it’s like those carnivorous flowers that attract you with their colors and then ensnare you. That’s where I channel all my knowledge and 30 years of experience.

Q. Is there anything you do for pleasure to ease the suffering of injustice?

A. I would love to play the guitar. I am a lousy musician and I have already exasperated several teachers. But something happens to me: I’m practicing, I see a change of light through the window, I throw the guitar down and go out to take pictures. And that’s with just one leg. I’d have to be totally disabled to learn to play decently.

Q. How close are friends to asking you to take pictures at their weddings?

A. You’d be surprised. Friends in the south are calling me El Puli [after the Pulitzer], which is a way of putting me in my place in case I get too big for my boots. The other day, a friend I used to work on a newspaper with in Jerez said, “Do you remember when I told you they were going to give you the Pulitzer for the terrible photos you took? Well, now they finally did!”

Q. Well, thank you very much, Puli.

A. Thank you, but, you know, I would give up the Pulitzer to have my leg back and be able to use two legs again. I’d even burn my work. It might contradict everything I’ve just said, but that’s how I feel.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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Q&A: What is the British government doing to help Brits in Italy overcome post-Brexit hurdles?

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On Wednesday the British embassy in Rome organised a town hall-style question and answer session to allow British residents in Italy to raise concerns and put their questions to Minister Wendy Morton and British Ambassador to Italy Jill Morris.

After the session, The Local was granted a brief interview with the minister to discuss some of the major issues for UK nationals in Italy that we’ve been reporting on this past year.

From residency rights to driving licences, here are the minister’s answers to our questions about the post-Brexit rights of British citizens in Italy.

How is the UK government assisting British nationals struggling to access the new carta di soggiorno elettronica?

UK citizens living in Italy have been encouraged by the British government to apply for a carta di soggiorno elettronica, a new biometric card that proves their right to live in Italy under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.

While the card is not required by the Italian government, it’s strongly recommended as the simplest way for Brits who have been resident in Italy since before January 1, 2021 to demonstrate their rights of residency and ensure they can continue to access essential services.

Some UK citizens, though, have had trouble accessing the card due to processing delays or the fact that their local police station, or questura, hasn’t yet got set up to issue the document – and have run into problems obtaining work contracts and applying for driving licenses as a result.

Anti-Brexit protesters on September 22, 2017 in Florence, Italy. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

The minister said that the British embassy in Rome has been holding regular online meetings to listen to residents’ concerns about the card, and also provides updates via a newsletter.

“Our ambassador has a newsletter that is a way of communicating regularly to British citizens, so they can sign up to this, as well as signing up to the Foreign Office’s ‘Living In…’ guide, to get up to date information on an ongoing basis,” she said.

Ambassador Morris highlighted that the British embassy is collecting reports from British citizens who have experienced problems accessing the card (as well as any other issues) via a contact form on its website.

“We encourage British residents in Italy to report to us when they have any difficulties exercising their rights, whether that’s related to healthcare, whether that’s at the questura to get the carta di soggiorno elettronica, or any other issues people may have,” the ambassador said.

“We log the individual cases; we also look for trends, so when we see there’s a trend of a problem, for example stamping passports at a particular airport, then we target the authorities at that airport to give them information and make sure all the border guards have that information.”

The embassy sends a monthly update to the Italian authorities to alert them to ongoing issues, she added.

You can find the embassy’s contact form here.

The ambassador also noted that the British embassy has worked with Italy’s national association of mayors, Anci, to distribute a booklet to comuni across the country laying out the post-Brexit rights of British citizens.

Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement on reciprocal driving licenses before the grace period expires at the end of this year?

After Britain left the EU at the end of last year, British residents who hadn’t yet got around to converting their UK license to an Italian one were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to use their British license in Italy.

Many hoped that Italy and the UK would later come to an agreement which would allow drivers to continue using their British license beyond that point.

But with less than four months to go before the grace period expires, Brits are now wondering whether to gamble on the two countries reaching an accord by the end of this year – and risk being unable to drive come January 1st – or to undergo the time-consuming and expensive process of retaking their driving test in Italy.

When we raised this issue with Ms. Morton, she said: “We absolutely are continuing to negotiate with the Italian government on the right to exchange a UK license for an Italian one without the need to retake a driving test, and I can assure you it’s our absolute priority to reach an agreement before the end of the grace period which is at the end of this year.”

REAL ALSO: Reader question: Will my UK driving licence still be valid in Italy after 2021?

Photo: Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

What is government doing to help British-Italian families wanting to return to live in the UK?

UK nationals wanting to return to live in Britain with their EU partners have until the end of March 2022 before the bar for being granted a spousal visa will be significantly raised. That deadline is fixed and will not be extended, the minister confirmed on Wednesday.

“If they want to apply, it’s important that they apply before the deadline,” she told The Local.

“Close family members of UK nationals who return from living in the EU by the 29th of March next year can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme as long as that relationship existed before exit day,” said the minister.

“It’s also worth remembering that family members of individuals from the EU, from Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Lichtenstein, as well as the families of British citizens may also be eligible to apply for a family permit under the EU Settlement Scheme, which will make it easier to travel with a family member to the UK.”

READ ALSO: Brits with EU partners warned over future problems returning to live in UK

Some EU-British couples, however, are already experiencing problems having their right to live together in the UK recognised, with reports coming out that the Home Office has denied some applications on seemingly flimsy or technical grounds.

“The fundamental thing here is that British citizens can return to the UK at any time. And it’s important that we remember that,” the minister said when asked about this issue.

In case you were wondering.

For British-Italian couples in Italy experiencing problem, “the first port of call should be our team here in the embassy; it may be that they then need to be signposted if it’s a Home Office issue,” said the minister.

“The Home Office has made a whole range of advice available online, and can also be contacted by telephone and by email.”

See The Local’s ‘Dealing with Brexit‘ section for the latest news and updates.



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DUP queries whether President is ‘snubbing’ North centenary events

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The DUP has questioned whether President Michael D Higgins is “snubbing” events marking Northern Ireland’s centenary after it emerged he declined an invitation to attend a commemorative church service with Queen Elizabeth.

DUP Assembly member Peter Weir also asked if Mr Higgins was joining Sinn Féin and the SDLP in “boycotting” such events, a move which he said “speaks volumes” about Ireland’s “commitment to reconciliation and progress”.

Mr Weir said on Wednesday he had written to Mr Higgins “asking if his office is officially snubbing all events marking this milestone in the decade of centenaries”. If this was the case, Mr Weir said, “I have urged him to think again”.

Ulster Unionist MLA and former party leader Mike Nesbitt also queried why Mr Higgins was unable to attend the service and said it was “surprising, uncharacteristic and regrettable”.

However, he said the reciprocal state visits of the queen to Ireland and Mr Higgins to Britain were “the high water mark in Anglo-Irish relations”. He said Mr Higgins has “shown a consistent willingness to outreach and a focus on reconciliation. So until we know the reason why he can’t attend we cannot be critical.”

Armagh service

The Service of Reflection and Hope, taking place in Armagh next month, will mark 100 years since the partition of Ireland and the creation of Northern Ireland. It is organised by the leaders of the island’s main Christian churches, who had anticipated Mr Higgins would take part as head of State.

However it has emerged that Mr Higgins would not be present. Mr Higgins, who is on a four-day visit to Rome, has not yet commented on his decision.

The President attended a meeting of non-executive presidents from 14 EU States yesterday but made no public comment other than remarks on the meeting itself.

His spokesman had told The Irish Times on Tuesday that the President was “not in a position to attend” the service. He did not elaborate on Wednesday or say why the President could not attend. Asked about the DUP’s remarks, his spokesman said the President had nothing further to add.

The President does not need to request Government permission to travel to Northern Ireland so the decision was made by his office, without reference to the Department of the Taoiseach. Sources said a Government representative will attend the service but it had not yet received an invitation.

The Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Church of Ireland primate Archbishop John McDowell and other church leaders will be present at the service on October 21st.

It is being organised by the Church Leaders’ Group “as part of their wider programme of collective engagement around the 1921 centenaries, with an emphasis on their common Christian commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation.”

A statement on Wednesday from the group – which is made up of the two Archbishops, the Presbyterian Moderator and the presidents of the Methodist church and the Irish Council of Churches – did not reference Mr Higgins but said the service was “offered as a contribution to the work of building community and deepening relationships”.

A spokesman for Dr Martin commented earlier that “the important thing is that this service is going ahead. It is an initiative of the main Christian denominations on this island and is underpinned by prayer, peace and reconciliation”.

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German election roundup: Immigration, pension reform and tough questions from children

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More immigration needed in Germany to prop up pension system

Immigration is a huge topic ahead of the September 26th election. And today the pro-business Free Democrats have been sharing their views on it, as well as the pension system. 

The FDP say many more workers from abroad – half a million per year – are needed to help keep the German pension system functioning.

“We need a fundamental rethink in migration policy,” parliamentary group vice chairman and financial politician Christian Dürr told DPA. 

“If we manage to make Germany an open, modern immigration country and at the same time stabilise the pension, we will gain more as a society than we can imagine today.”

READ ALSO: ‘Germany needs more immigrants to fill jobs’

Dürr accused the CDU/CSU and the SPD of putting the financing of pensions on the back burner which he said is a fatal mistake.

For the next federal government, he said, the ageing society will be a major challenge. He said more people were retiring but fewer contributors were entering the labor market.

“The state already has to subsidise pension insurance with large sums of money,” Dürr said. “In the long run, we can’t afford that.”

The FDP is proposing a reform of pension financing based on higher migration into the labour market and an equity pension, in which pension funds invest in stocks to generate higher returns.

“If we want to stabilise our public finances and reduce debt, our country needs at least 500,000 immigrants per year,” Dürr said.

The FDP advocates for a points-based system based on the Canadian model to increase immigration. 

People who want to come to Germany would be classified according to education, work experience, language skills and age. Meanwhile, Germany should make it easier to recognise professional qualifications gained abroad, according to the FDP.

READ ALSO: Where do Germany’s political parties stand on dual citizenship and nationalities 

In the debates for the leading candidates in the Bundestag elections, the financing of pensions has been controversial lately. Green Party candidate for chancellor Annalena Baerbock also spoke out in favour of more immigration of skilled workers. The Left Party leader Janine Wissler called for politicians and civil servants to pay into the statutory pension fund.

Chancellor candidates Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU) have been arguing about whether young people should be guaranteed that the retirement age and pension level remains stable. Scholz advocates for this guarantee, while Laschet said it doesn’t need to be considered at the moment.

The latest polls

Here’s a snapshot of some of the latest polls on Wednesday, with SPD still in the lead ahead of the CDU/CSU. 

Bavaria’s Söder sees signs of a turnaround for conservatives

Despite the polls, CSU leader Markus Söder remains confident that CDU/CSU can win the election race.

“We are already seeing the first signs of a turnaround,” Söder said on Wednesday. “I think anything is possible, we can still catch up with the SPD. It is much closer than most believe at the moment.”

Söder is confident that the CDU/CSU – also known as the Union – would become the strongest force in the federal election.

“We will be ahead on election night,” he said. Söder went on to compare politics to football, saying “you have to be an optimist, as a fan of FC Nuremberg anyway”.

We won’t pretend we know much about German football, but Nuremberg must not be at the top of the Bundesliga right now – I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if they make a comeback.

Laschet caught out by children 

There was another awkward moment for the CDU’s Armin Laschet, who’s bidding to become the next Angela Merkel. 

Laschet – and the SPD’s Olaf Scholz – faced a series of questions from young people, on a range of issues. 

One of the youngsters – Romeo – asked about Laschet’s position on marriage for all. Laschet denied he had been against same-sex marriage before Germany voted to legalise it in 2017.

In true professional style, Romeo referred to a previous interview in Spiegel where Laschet had said that as a member of the Bundestag he had voted against the motion on same-sex marriage by the SPD. Laschet tried to dodge the answer by saying: “You were already reading Spiegel so long ago? That’s great.”

To which Romeo replied, “Nah, I Googled it.”

Scholz also had to deal with hard questions. 

Romeo, for instance, asked Scholz why children have drowned in the sea because they want to get to Germany, and why a plane was not sent to them to pick them up.

Scholz replied that many people were looking for ways to come to Germany that were not safe. He said authorities had to try and save them, and make their homeland safer.

Hats off to the young people asking the tough questions. 

Scholz: No tax cuts for the rich 

In a Tuesday interview on ZDF talk show Klartext, SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Sholz declared that “there will be no leeway for tax cuts” for the rich after the election.

In order to ease the tax burden on lower and middle incomes – as he plans – “you have to make sure that those who have a lot contribute a little more,” he told the interviewers. 

READ ALSO: What the German parties tax pledges mean for you



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