how old is your soul? is it a perpetual child, excitable, uninhibited? is it wise beyond its years? what does it look like? is it a wisp of purple smoke that unfurls from your mouth when you speak, or is it an aura, golden like a halo around your head? what does it sound like? is it a melody that only you can hear, or is it tangible; the beating of your heart or the sound of your footsteps? these are the kinds of questions that alessandra mannisi is exploring with her photography project, souls in a box.
“souls in a box is a photography and anthropology project that draws insight into people’s lives focusing on their own personal intimate living space,” alessandra explains. “every box is a collection of memories, dreams, obsessions, hopes and points of view. it’s a window on our contemporary world.” a photographer since her early twenties, alessandra has been living in berlin for three years. after a short stint residing in london, a fascination with diversity drew her to berlin, and a love of culture and personality made her stay. “i’ve always been fascinated with people, their art and their open minds,” she says, “every time i’ve found myself in somebody’s space i couldn’t stop looking around, trying to catch details of their stories and personalities. every life was so different compared to mine.”
according to alessandra, every home is the window to its owner’s soul: “exploring personal space is the best way to get to know someone,” she muses, “the best way to understand the world is by knowing people. we are part of a generation that can be slaves to our passions and obsessions. we are the people allowed to see the world as it is. we have the possibility to follow and get lost in our own dreams.” alessandra’s interest in understanding the world actually stemmed from oppression; having grown up in a small town in italy where stereotypes and prejudices were rampant, she was eager to find a city that would let her breathe creatively and culturally. “one year ago, i merged my passion for knowing people with my passion for photography, and so came the idea for souls in a box.”
“the first person i photographed was a friend of a friend,” she remembers, “i didn’t know him personally so i wasn’t sure what to expect. but we had a great time photographing his ‘typical evening.’ that first experiment gave me the motivation to keep the project going.” her subjects, or souls, can be anyone: creatives, artists, musicians, intellectuals, poets, families — anyone who, as alessandra puts it, is turning their life into art. “it could even be someone who expresses their art even in the way of preparing their breakfast,” she laughs, noting her go-to example of how art can be found anywhere. the goal for the project is to photograph 100 spaces in total. alessandra is currently a third of the way there, having recently wrapped up shooting her 35th soul in a box.
alessandra starts off every shoot by getting to know her subject’s soul — the philosophy of the project comes to life with every session. “i usually ask them to tell me about their passions. i ask questions. i catch their story through details or objects around their house,” she explains, “but i also talk about my own life too. this is an artistic project for me and for them. i don’t want to turn them into models, though. that’s the hardest part: getting them to show me who they really are!”
as for her own “box” (which she’ll photograph as her 50th piece), alessandra describes it as a chaos of treasures, “a little bit of my own life, my story.” through many different stories, alessandra hopes to tell an even bigger story about the generation she lives in. “i am exploring a fast, crazy, independent and modern generation. this is a whole new kind of generation,” she explains, “i’m creating a patchwork of relationships and collaborations with extraordinary people. i’m fascinated by extraordinary details.” so, look around you. how old is your soul? what does it look like? what does it sound like? if alessandra has anything to say about it, it’s bigger and more extraordinary than you think.
have a beautiful space in berlin you’d like to see featured in ale’s project? email her at firstname.lastname@example.org