My hometown in the heart of Italy was too small for me, as a teenager I was determined to become Humanitarian Aid Worker and tell about it with my photos.
Right after studying Political Sciences and Development Studies in Rome, on my 26th I fulfilled that dream: in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein, then in India for two and half years with the United Nations, and finally in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. My camera was always with me, I portrayed faces, places and events so powerfully and dramatically different from the world I came from. My photos from the first elections in Afghanistan were published in Swedish, Norwegian, Canadian newspapers and at the European Union News Room.
Yet, at that time, the idea of becoming a full time photographer did not even touch my mind.
(Alessandra Mignardi, foto Frans Lahaye)
Between 2004 and 2005 I worked in Afghanistan with a Humanitarian Organization. During a long weekend in spring 2004 with a few brave and adventurous (read irresponsible) colleagues and the Dutch guy who later became by husband, we drove to the inner region of Bamyan, where the Buddha caves are, those destroyed by the Talibans.
We also visited the breathtaking blue lakes of Band-e-Amir, sometimes we had to stay in the car since on the fields there is still chance you walk on a land mine.
With my first digital camera, a CANON Powershot G5, I took these photos.
We got married in my hometown, just as a coincidence on 11 September 2005 and a week later we left for Indonesia, not for a honeymoon in Bali, but to Sumatra, to the new job location of my husband: aid support after the Tsunami.
Due to governmental rules, as spouse I was not allowed to work, so I decided to study what till that time I had been doing as self thought: photography and arts. I took an online training course with a school in New York and got started. But our times in Indonesia ended shorter than planned. I was pregnant of our first child and we preferred not to experiment my first pregnancy in a remote village of Indonesia. So we moved back to Europe, in no time my husband found a new job near Tilburg and we actually did what we had never planned to do: settle down.
Since we moved here my full time task has been taking care of our growing family. Our children never went to a day-care nor had a baby sitter. When our first son turned three he started attending a playgroup two mornings a week at the Rudolf Steiner Antroposophical School “Tiliander” here in Tilburg and when he turned four he started attending the Primary School at the same school, building up to five mornings a week. The same happened for our girls, the youngest one started school in January 2015. So somehow I kept my job of project manager, or even more, I am the Director of Operations – aka “Mum”- of our family.
Like any full time mum job, my position has a high level of mobility, working standing up, bending over and staying on my knees, a high level of stamina, negotiation and interpersonal skills in three languages (Italian, Dutch, English); culinary, driving, biking skills, ability to work in a chaotic environment; knowledge of medicine and finance.
Being a mother of three enthusiastic and creative children has also meant experimenting and learning a lot, in crafts, arts and in DIY projects. When my now teenager boy was still a baby, I graduated with the Photography and Arts on line school and started working as a free lance: I wanted, and had the opportunity to, keep my “Mum” full time job. Through the Steiner methodology of the school my children attend, I have learned a lot. Parent’s participation into the activities of the school is there considered essential, and in all these years I grew up too. Decorating and cleaning classrooms, baking and promoting the school with graphical design and photography: it’s been a fantastic journey.
I am a foodie by birth: I grew up being fed with pure food from the countryside, with authentic flavours and natural ingredients. When I was a child my grandmothers never taught me how to make their dishes, like their homemade pasta and delicious crostate, shortcrust pastries. I actually stood in their kitchens and stared at them, observe all their movements and rituals and let them sink in.
With my mum it was a different story: apart from cooking daily food, she used (and she still does!) to organize le cene, dinners and parties. In those occasions she stood in the kitchen for days and nights preparing succulent dishes and profusely decorated cakes. From her I learned a lot by helping out but I did not have a say in anything: I was the apprentice, I had to do what she asked me to do, “Alessandra cut this, wash that, clean here, bring me that…” Sounds like “Yes chef!” Staying in the kitchen with her was a sort of mastering the art of kitchen management, and self-control...
Years later when I moved out I started cooking for flatmates, colleagues and myself. At that time I started experimenting cooking and discovered I was a good cook. Since I have become a mother, cooking and preparing healthy and fresh food has become even more important, and I am very glad they enjoy it and want to help me in the kitchen. They love to cook; they are always around me in the kitchen, sometimes a bit too much, so that sometimes we make schedules for who gets to help when.
When it comes to food I am very judgemental. I rarely go to a restaurant, I prefer to look up at a recipe and develop it my way. I love slow food, fermentation, and patience. Baking sourdough bread after it has been fermenting and proofing for two/three days gives me a huge sense of satisfaction. I am happy when the children come back from school, open the door and say “Mmmmmmm!!! Smells good! What did you make today?” or even “mummy, it smells as if we are in bakery!”
It’s against my food religion to buy ready-made processed food. I am happy when they taste food and can tell me the ingredients, even my secret ones, when they recognize the spices and herbs I used. And I love it when they also are very judgmental about what I cooked, suggesting a different ingredient or next time making it more juicy, softer, drier…
Together with the passion for cooking grew up in me the passion for displaying and photographing food.
Known for being a very, very good cook, I have been asked and had the opportunity to give cooking classes to a number of Dutch lovers of Italian food. My passion for sourdough bread brought me even further: together with internationals we have experimented traditional bread baking, from Sweden to Syria, Iraq, Israel and Morocco.
The origin of my name "La Madre Badessa"
When I lived in Kabul a colleague of mine nicknamed me “Badessa” because in addition to my work I took care of the house and especially of the kitchen. But this is not the only reason I call myself so. When I was a child I was very much fascinated by the figure of the Abbess more than any other male figure in the church at all, including the pope.
Just like all my relatives and friends, I was raised roman catholic in an ancient town in the heart of Italy in which there is a church every hundred meters. And as most Italian people, I had more than one relative in the Catholic Church. One of them was very special: Madre Superiora Maria Irene, or simply zia Irene, my great-aunt, the eldest sister of my grandmother Ersilia. She became a nun when very young and served in many countries, she spent most of her life in Argentina. In the 1980s she was relocated to Israel to manage the “Hortus Conclusus”, a monastery built at the beginning of 1901 in Hortas, in the outskirts of Bethlehem. In the Monastery there was an orphanage, a primary and secondary school and an attached farm. Together with my parents, my brother and my grandmother, we visited her in the summer of 1985; I was twelve at that time. The place was stunning and all the nuns and other people who worked there were so welcoming and kind to us. It was an amazing experience for me at that time being able to travel that far away.
Zia, (aunty) was well known and respected in the area around the Monastery, she was kind, open, generous and collaborative, she was a great manager; and she just looked like my superhero grandma, they resembled each other like two drops of water.
The women in my family inspired me, taught me and gave me through their genes skills to walk my path in this world. The ‘Madre Badessa’ of this website is a mother whose credo is taking care of her family by living daily life in this world in respect and harmony with people and nature.
Photography is a part of everything I do. Creativity and versatility are my strength properties: when clients give me their products and ask me to surprise them, I am in my element.
I am an enthusiastic and go-getter autodidact with the motto: "I still have never done it, so I think it can".
As photographer I was born as a storyteller, what in Italian we call “reportagistico”. That is my style when I report an event, be it a birth, a festival, a day-in-the-life, a wedding and a funeral. I am a keen observer and do not like to intrude, rather I like to catch the life and the stories of people from details and different perspectives of the people involved.
When it comes to food and lifestyle photography I feel I have a mission: styling and revealing its story, so that the viewer can connect to it, and ultimately desire it.