Giuseppe Paterno war Anfang neunzig, als er im Jahr 2017 sein Studium begonnen hatte. Er schrieb sich in der philosophischen Fakultät der Universität von Palermo ein und machte sich so einen Traum wahr. Heute hat er seinen Abschluss in der Hand, als Jahrgangsbesten legten sie ihm einen Kranz ums Haupt.
Sein Leben lang habe er Bücher gemocht, sagt er. Studieren aber konnte er nie. Er stammt aus einfachen Verhältnissen und einer großen Familie mit sechs Geschwistern. Er war der älteste. Früh schon hatte er Geld verdienen müssen. An ein Studium war da nicht zu denken.
Er wuchs im ärmlichen Sizilien auf, als Teenager musste er in den Krieg - als Funker in der Marine. Später dann ging er zur Eisenbahn und heiratete seine Frau, mit der er zwei Kinder bekam. Tagsüber arbeitete er, nachts las er. Mit Anfang dreißig holte er seinen Schulabschluss nach. Den Hunger auf Bildung konnte das aber nicht stillen.
„Wissen ist wie ein Koffer, den ich mit mir herumtrage, eine Kostbarkeit.“ sagt er heute. So habe er sich schließlich an der Uni immatrikuliert. Es war nicht einfach eine Laune. Er hatte einen Plan und eine lange Leseliste. Beide arbeitete er mit Lust und Laune ab.
Jeden Morgen um sieben Uhr stand er auf: Frühstück, Lesen und Vorlesungen. Eine rasche Mahlzeit, Mittagsruhe, Seminare am Nachmittag, Abendbrot und Lektüre bis nach Mitternacht. Für seine schriftlichen Arbeiten nutzte er eine Schreibmaschine. Die Partys der Kommilitonen ließ er aus. Er hatte anderes im Sinn. Dann kam Corona.
Erst fielen die Kurse aus, dann fanden Vorlesungen via Internet und Computer statt. Paterno kaufte sich einen Rechner und lernte ihn faktisch im Handumdrehen bedienen. Nun hat er sein Studium als Bester des Jahrgangs und mit den höchsten Lorbeeren abgeschlossen. „Es ist einer der glücklichsten Tage meines ganzen Lebens", sagt er. „Ich wünschte nur, meine Frau wäre hier, um mich zu sehen. Sie starb vor 14 Jahren.“
Am Ziel sieht er sich noch nicht: „Ich erwäge, mein Studium fortzusetzen“, sagt Paterno. Er strebt nun den Magister-Titel an - und er fühlt sich fit dafür. „Meine Mutter wurde 100 Jahre alt. Wenn die Zahlen und die Genetik auf meiner Seite sind, dann bleiben mir noch vier Jahre".
First of all we’d be interested to know what you experienced during the photo shoot and how did you get to know Giuseppe Paterno?
Our producer Emily Roe found out about Giuseppe Paterno’s story. She saw the story on a local newspaper and rightly she though it was a nice story to tell. I was assigned to the story as I was still living in Palermo at that time, so it was easy for me to try and get access. The whole photo shoot was quite interesting as you rarely get the chance to spend so much time with someone who is 96 and has survived a war and a pandemic. He really had a lot to share about his childhood and the fact that he couldn’t dedicate time to study even if it was his dream to have a proper education. It was challenging to explain to Giuseppe Paterno that even if I was doing a story on his graduation I also wanted to tell and develop a deeper story on his life and personality and needed to spend as much time as I could with him to document various aspects of his daily life.
What I liked about this assignment and what I like in general about my job it’s that it allows me to meet and spend time with different types of people and to learn and sometimes be inspired by their lives. What I learnt from Giuseppe Paterno’s life is that you are never too old to start doing what you like and to achieve a goal you have always wanted to achieve. I think that’s a great encouragement for anyone.
You were also following Giuseppe Paterno during the very rough times while Italy was on a shutdown due to Corona. How did Giuseppe deal with the whole situation?
I wasn’t really following Giuseppe Paterno while Italy was on a shutdown as I was in Rome at that moment covering the outbreak of the disease. What he told us though is that he was not put off by the disease itself after the war and everything else he had been through in life. "All of that strengthened us, all of my peer group, all of those who are still alive," he said. "It didn't really scare us that much." – Peterno said.
And how could you provide safety during your visits?
Safety is always top priority when you are out covering a story. When spending time with Giuseppe Paterno I knew I had to be particularly careful and respect all the anti-Covid security measures. When shooting the story I was always wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance between me and Giuseppe Paterno. I wanted him to feel safe and I wanted myself to be safe as well.
Paterno seems like a modest man. Was he at any time uncomfortable being photographed and drawn to that much attention?
At the beginning, when I started to cover his story, he was quite happy to have me around to spend time with him to document his daily life. He was pleased that someone was interested in his story. The closer the graduation day was getting the more nervous Giuseppe Paterno was becoming. He started to get many phone calls and interview requests from national media and this got him a bit nervous and tired. He wanted to spend his energies on studying and getting ready properly for graduation day. Luckily at that stage we had already established a nice and quite close relationship so I could have a better access to him than anyone else. I guess the key is to spend some time, before and during the actual shooting, to explain clearly to the person you are shooting why you are doing the story and make him understand that you are there doing this story because you really care. This makes the difference.
When and where were you born, where have you been educated und what are stages of your professional career?
I was born in Palermo, Italy on September 22nd, 1989. Since I was a child I have always had a curiosity inside me so that when something was happening I needed to be present and find out what was going on. Still today I have this need to go and document what’s going on and to me photography has always been the most natural way and tool to tell stories. That’s why I decided to go to University and attend a Journalism course which I completed In 2015. At that time I was already freelancing for Reuters mainly covering stories about migration as I was based in Palermo. As freelance for Reuters I worked a lot on the Mediterranean migration crisis story both from land and from on board search and rescue ships operating off the coast of Libya. Since 2019 I have been working full time at Reuters as staff photographer based in Rome where I typically cover General news, Politics, Sport and the Vatican.
Do you have any photographic role models?
I don’t have a real role model; I like to think my models are all the photographers I have worked with and I have spent time with. I try to learn from all the people I have the chance to work with side by side on the field. I think, as long as you have the right mindset, you can literally learn from anyone, experienced photographers and non-experienced.
Where can one find more of your photographic work? Website, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter …
You can find more of my photographic works on my Instagram account: guglielmo_mangiapane and on my website www.guglielmomangiapane.com