Chair, Giorgio & Anna’s house, Bedford, 2013, from the series "The Spaghetti Tree"

Chair, Giorgio & Anna’s house, Bedford, 2013, from the series "The Spaghetti Tree"

After winning the 1000 words photography prize in 2012, London-based artist Lucy Levene was commissioned to make work with the theme of migration from Southern to Northern Europe in the wake of World War II. 

Levene writes of the project:

"The Italian communities of Bedford & Peterborough formed in the 1950s as men were recruited from Southern Italy to supplement labour shortages in the local Brick industry. ‘The Spaghetti Tree’ is titled after the Panorama April fools day hoax documentary that aired on the BBC in 1957. At the time Britain was so unfamiliar with Italian culture that many were persuaded that spaghetti did indeed grow on trees. These photos were taken between February 2013 and 2014 at Italian community events in both Bedford & Peterborough.

As an outsider to these communities I took up the position of community photographer, attending events and providing portraits as mementos. I was interested in demonstrations of ‘community’ and of ‘family’ being played out in front of the camera. The series consists of 48 images, within which the repetition of particular people, themes and motifs aims to draw attention to the means of construction as well as to the passing of time. Caught moments, staged and interrupted portraits as well as interiors are given equal weight, lending the work a disparate, cyclical feel. Beyond the various constructs of what it means to be ‘Italian’, the conventions of portraiture and the Italian ideal of ‘la Bella Figura’, families discompose, revealing their dynamics. Individuals concede, betraying desires, insecurities and nostalgias. Frustrated by the perfect image and its hermetic surface, I took these images at just the wrong moment; looking for a disruption, ‘a crack that lets the light in’. Using flash and its blanket reveal, I attempt some form of objective democracy. Yet, sitting between construction and documentary, as ever this work is highly controlled and constructed.

Throughout the images, elements of the shoot are visible; the studio backdrop, harsh shadows from the flash and awkward perspectives all indicate my presence. As Federica Chiocchetti states in her essay, 'There’s Nothing Like Real, Home-grown Spaghetti', ‘[The Spaghetti Tree] is a construction of the candid nature of an encounter.’ In subtly foregrounding elements of construction, I hope to encourage the reader to question the truth value of the documentary approach.

This work pulls together strands from previous projects, mixing documentary with performance and construction and experimenting with various levels of control and direction. An outsider working within this community, I became interested in the tensions between between public and private, formal and informal and in how these disparities relate to construction and performance within photography; the perfect and the imperfect image."

"The Spaghetti Tree" has been published by 1000 words Magazine and was the winner of Jorg Colberg’s Conscientious Portfolio competition in 2014. More information about the project can be found at www.cphmag.com/conv-levene/ and www.1000wordsmag.com/lucy-levene/, as well as on the artist's website, at www.lucylevene.co.uk/the_spaghetti_tree.shtml.