The following text is a collection of reflections I made while on the train, before I stopped commuting due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Reflections that I first pinned on my smartphone so as not to forget them and which then, calmly, I tried to give a logical thread. The photos, on the other hand, I "stole" almost all of them at Termini station, between April 2016 and March 2020. Looking at them today, it seems a thousand years have passed. They are the images of a world without masks, helpless and unaware, which has left without saying goodbye. "Railway Station" is a photographic project that strips me, overwhelms me and moves me every time I look at it. And I dedicate it to you.
BECAUSE I'M A STREEPHER
(street + photographer = streepher)
Street! I hate her and I love her with the same intensity. That's where I come from. And that's where, every time, I come back. My imprinting with the street was not good. We where in the 70s and the suburbs of Rome were miserable and dangerous. Everything stank of smildew, heroin and muggings, through which some victims were desperately trying to turn into executioners. The "Bangers", I called them, and they get around in bunch. I was around 12 years old, they must have been no more than 16 or 17. Some of them, unfortunately, never reached 20. When they sighted me, they came running to kick and punch me, showering me with insults, for no reason. In the luckiest days they only spit at me. And they went away laughing, leaving the scars of humiliation on me. But I never ran away from them: those who flee claim to be prey, and I was too proud to accept the role of the gazelle. Moreover, if they had managed to catch me, it would have been even more humiliating. I'm not Forrest.
It was a horrible time during which I never said anything at home. I was too ashamed. My father would have judged me weak. He was very good at defending himself. He knew well how to use his hands! Now that I think about it: why did the people passing by, seeing what those bangers were doing to me, never lifted a finger to defend me? How gray…
Being a street singer, time later, was a sort of revenge with myself: it was the 90s and the historic center of Rome was neither miserable nor dangerous. But it still took me a lot of courage, every day, to perform in front of the people out and about, who often treated me like a beggar. In the meantime, seeing so many passersby, I enriched my emotional background by refining observation skills. I wanted to photograph some of them, I just didn't know it yet.
This long, slightly bohemian parentheses lasted about three years. A thousand days which remain among the most beautiful in my life…
After a long time, here I am again in the street dipping my hands in its lifeblood. This time to photograph people. Because, after all, the street IS the people. And people are Life. What's more beautiful?
Photography is one of the few things that can always leave me amazed, in all its genres. From the macro that makes me discover new galaxies, to the glam that knows how to get me drunk, up to astrophotography that makes me come back down to earth. But it is through Street Photography that I can make peace with myself.
Being able to catch those small nuances of daily life that can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, this is the challenge. A look, a gesture, an expression. No man is an island? The opposite is true! And every time I sail through these archipelagos of souls, I am enchanted by the variety of microclimates. I imagine myself going through them with a submarine. My camera is the periscope. With every photo I take, I steal a frame from the hypothetical movie I'm shooting in my mind. How many main characters in thousands of screenplays for millions of movies that I will never see! I wish I could hug them tight and telling "everything will be all right"… or hearing them saying that to me. But it is not possible. Not for me. So I take a photograph to bring with me forever.
- He Knew how to read, Nineteen Hundred than! Not books, anybody can do that. He knew how to read poeple, the signs that people carry on them: places, sounds, scents, their land, their story, everything written on them. He would read and, with infinite care he would catalogue, organize, and make order in that immense map that he was drawing in his mind. Maybe he'd never seen the world, but for almost 30 years the world had been passing on that ship. And for almost 30 years on that ship, he'd been spyng on it and e would steal its soul. -
From the movie The Legend of the Pianist On the Ocean by Giuseppe Tornatore
People: a group of persons that, after all, I'm afraid of. I fear their idiocy as I fear mine. Because idiocy can kill. They can be sinister and malevolent, and very often gray. When I am in the crowd, I am that people: I judge, avoid, leave aside… and I go away guilty. But sometimes, in that same crowd, I notice people who doesn't seem gray at all. Some of them are green, someone else is blue or red, despite everything, and I need to capture them in a shot to prove it.
Looking at people, when nobody notices you, is like watching the fireworks of spontaneity... an explosion of moods of every color. It's like being in a kindergarten, among dozens of children playing and interacting with each other. True, children's eyes are really the mirror of their soul, because they have no filters. Like the expressions of adults absorbed in their thoughts and chores. I walk through the crowd while I go to work, with the camera always hanging around my neck, meeting lawyers, secretaries, workers, soldiers, teachers, students, train managers, tourists, vagabonds and train conductors. I move among these people aware that I will never be one of them. And I look at them with a sort of admiration. It seems that everyone has found his place in the world. Everyone except me. Maybe my role is to steal their truths to deliver them to those who don't have them. Because that's what streephers do.
In 2011 my wife and I chosed to move to the province. This is how my commuting life began. Railway station, an immense crossroad of individuals of all ethnicities and nationalities, has become my hunting ground. In this fascinating no-man's-land so many stories intertwine every day and all of them deserve to be told. I do what I can. I believe that shooting is a way of deceiving Time for a moment and secretly caressing Eternity.
- Rachel, all of-- All this… It's-- It's not me. It's… Inside, I am… I am more. -
- Bruce... deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it's not who you are underneath... it's what you do that defines you. -
From the movie Batman Begins by Christopher Nolan
Is it what we do that qualifies us? I have studied sax for 4 years, also the guitar, I have learned how to sing, I worked as a for a renovation company, I took care of the home delivery of ballot papers, I tore tickets at the entrance of an outdoor cinema, in the evening, while in the morning I took care of the cleaning of the room. I hoed up a 3,000 square meter plot of land belonging to the owner of the gym I was going to, to pay my tuition. I attended a professional course for cartoonists, as a porter at the markets (at night), as a baby-sitter, the stage technician for a traveling show. I joined the SIAE as an author and composer, after passing a couple of fairly simple exams. During my military service I did the driver for an army general and then the paper pass at the Ministry of Defense. After the military I did the gallop for an editorial office, as the technician of the broadcasting of television programs, I got a part in an episode of a television series by Antonio and Pupi Avati (not that I had ever wanted to be an actor, it happened). I have been a guitar, saxophone and sweet flute teacher, home furniture transporter / fitter, used car dealer, I owned a video store. I also worked as recording engineer for a radio station, as a street singer, as a pony express, as a whitewasher, I played in pubs on New Year's Eve and in restaurants on Valentine's Day, or for Women's Day. I've serenaded beneath balconies and livened up birthday parties with my guitar, I have been a estate agent in Tenerife, as a musical entertainer in a talk show, the video editor, as a sound engineer, as a pc cabling, as a computer teacher for ECDL. I wrote and composed love songs. I taught the use of Photoshop to nuns in a convent, I went to naturist beaches for years, I worked as a producer of music demos and rented a camper. I participated, upon payment, in a famous live television broadcast that staged civil disputes complete with a judge and final sentence; I was playing the injured party. I followed a master for 3D generalist artist, obtaining the Autodesk Certification after a rather demanding exam, and I attended a basic course in photographic technique. After that I also attended an evening course in astrophotography at the University of Tuscia. I worked as a warehouse worker for a tour operator, I was a photographer for an event location, as a call center operator, as a 3D graphics teacher. I set up a small dark room in the bathroom at home, complete with everything needed to print in black and white, and I spent whole afternoons there for a year in a row, after reading (on the train) the three volumes of Ansel Adams "The Camera", "The Negative" and "The Press". I have obtained the OEPAC professional certificate (Educational Operator for Autonomy and Communication) thanks to which I am now an educator in middle schools for children with cognitive-behavioral disorders and I was also a wedding photographer ...
II built this site and I wrote what you are reading.
Well, I did some of these jobs only for a few days or a few months, often in parallel with others that I have done for years. But I met so many people and lived a thousand lives. I also made some huge mistakes for which I am not at all proud and which I later regretted. Bitterly. I felt the bitter taste of those who see the depths of the pit and, in a moment of clarity of mind, I plunged into the desperate awareness of being hack. Everyone has his own monsters to fight and I need to learn something new every day in order to go to sleep peacefully. But, truly, I am none of this. Not even a photographer. A streepher, maybe, a 18% medium gray.
- You don't make a photograph just with camera. You bring to the act all the pictures you have seen, the booksyou have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved. -
Unlike some other street photographers, who leave the house specifically to do Street Photography and, as river fishermen, have the patience to lurk for hours waiting for the right moment, I do not search for the photos that I take. The shots come to meet me as I walk to go to work. It is called "serendipity". I dedicate to the Street that little piece of time that goes from when I get off the train to when I enter the subway (and vice versa, on the way back home). I like to think that it is fate that makes me pass through there at that precise moment and not a moment before, or a moment later. Being in the right place at the right time: here is the Magic! In fact, I still don't quite understand if it was me who chose the Street or she me. The truth is that I really find a lot of beauty in everyday life. We strive, more or less, to please, to be beautiful for others, without knowing that we are more beautiful when we do not try to be! And that's why I shoot: to stop, before it fades, the infinite magnificence of the unconscious.
I am always extremely fascinated by the beauty and skill of some models and their photographers. Knowing how to translate that exterior into elegant innocence, accomplice malice or vital sensuality, I consider it pure Art. I've tried to do it myself a few times, but it's not for me. It is in stark contrast to my need to go unnoticed in orther to steal the spontaneity I need so much. I can't say "you're fantastic" with each shot, or suggest what to express or how to feel. It would be like asking your partner: - I would like you to whisper to me "I love you" spontaneously -.I could try to collaborate with a model for a couple of days, follow her in her daily life and photograph her when she is not expecting, but I find it too complicated to make. I mean, I'm stuck. I will have to take the train even when I no longer need it, if I still want to take the snapshots that I like!
In December 2015, when I was still not doing this photographic genre, I forgot my Canon 5DMkII under the seat, getting off the train in a hurry and I couldn't find it anymore. I experienced the loss of the camera as a real tragedy because I didn't have the money to buy another one. After four "very long" months, I managed to get together around 350 euros to buy a new Fujifilm X30. I wasn't very excited about it but I couldn't afford anything else. I was like I getting off a Ferrari to drive a Fiat 500. If I hadn't lost my Canon, I would never have bought it. Luckily I underestimated little Fuji. Thanks to its extremely compact dimensions, combined with a respectable image quality, considering the size of its sensor, we became truly inseparable and I began secretly photographing people traveling on the same train car. Often, commuters like me.
The doubt: was it the Station itself that swallowed my 5D Mark II, to push me towards Street Photography?
One life is not enough. Like when you are on a train, while running, and looking out the window. Plowed fields, wheat furrows, pylons, rural houses, flocks. Populated areas, ruins, rivers, country lanes. Sheds, small power plants, large empty parking lots. Long dark tunnels. Construction sites, quarries, skeletons of buildings never completed. Frightening trains speeding in the opposite direction. Caravan sheds, sports fields, car wreckers. One life is not enough for me. I wish I could get off the train every time the landscape changes. Get to know all the people who breathe it every day ... and photograph them while they do it. I would like to stay in those places for a month, a year or as much as I think and then resume the journey. This would be a nice way of life, if only I had the courage!
- Life is made up of trains that close their doors in our faces and leave without us, leaving us the bitter taste of what it would have been like to get on. And of trains on which we get on, in spite of ourselves, for fear that life will leave us on foot. -
I have to make a little confession: being a commuter is really distressing to me. The detachment and departure from my family environment creates anxiety, a lot of anxiety especially during the colder months. Every morning I leave the house at six, when it's still dark, and I never meet anyone, not even a person who walks the dog. There is often a very thick fog due, I imagine, to the fact that the town where I live (Orte) is built on a tuff cake near the Tiber. To go and take the 6.30 train I prefer to use the car, even if there is a shuttle. This is to reduce the variables that can cause me delay. I am obsessed with punctuality. I work in a middle school and the boys' entrance is at 7.50 a.m. Before discovering the Street, the journey from home to work was the worst part of the day. Taking photos at the station was therapeutic. Now I live the wait to reach the station as if it were my catharsis. I can't think of anything other than the infinite interesting images that could arise before me if only I have the courage to reach out to grab them. I love the atmosphere of the railway environments and I think I will always love it, even when I could stop commuting. I already know that one day all this, paradoxically, I will miss.
There are days when I force myself not to bring the camera. To go lighter and also to not make it a habit. But as soon as I go down the steps of the train, I feel unconfortable. It's like I don't have my artificial arm, my super power, my Security blanket. I walk without looking around for fear of seeing, and not being able to capture, the Photo of my life. The one I will never do.
One of my favorite books is Narciso and Boccadoro, by Hermann Hesse. I cried reading the last page. It had never happened to me for a book.
Aging is a great achievement, I know. But it is also a big burden. Thousands of young people imprisoned in fragile and aching bodies, victims of an incomprehensible spell. Nobody knows why. What their eyes have seen and experienced, what they were when all those scars, which we call wrinkles, had not yet distorted their facial features, only resists thanks to some discolored photos, abandoned at the bottom of that drawer, among the folds of all the beautiful projects, among the many unfinished works that no one will admire.
- Old dreams were good dreams. They did not come true. Anyway ... I got them. -
Based on the film The Bridges of Madison County by Clint Eastwood
The fact is that life, in most cases, first gets you tested and then teaches you how to pass the test. Woody Allen, to a reporter who asked him what he thought of death, replied “I haven't changed my mind. I'm definitely against it ”. We are troglodytes, this is the truth. Because seniority is only a disease for which a cure is not yet known and, to accept it, we philosophize on the true meaning of our existence after having swallowed up dogmas about what we will find at the end of the tunnel.
- How sad it is!’ murmured Dorian Gray, with his eyes still fixed upon his own portrait. ‘How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrid, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June… If it was only the other way! If it was I who were to be always young, and the picture that were to grow old! For this—for this—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give!’ -
From the book The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Had it been a simple photograph instead of a painting, it would have made no difference to Dorian, of course. Of course, he wasn't interested in immortality as much as keeping his young appearance. But staying forever young can lead to the same result.
It is amazing how our survival instinct drives us to capture the fleeting moment. Whether it's a photo, a painting or a sculpture, it is still a battle cry. Because Art is, in its maximum expression, the uprising of the Soul.
One day, when the cure to eradicate this terrible plague called elderly will be found, we will begin to explore deep space, and the main characters of all those beautiful scripts will become galactic travelers who, on interstellar trains, will sail to infinity... and beyond. Thus, planet after planet, they will reach God to ask him what his name really is. And they won't need to ask him anything else, because in the meaning of His name there will be an explanation of everything.
- I don't believe in God... and maybe He noticed it. -
From the movie Philomena by Stephen Frears
Fortunately, among the same crowd that I am part of despite myself, there are individuals who are not at all gray like me. Some are green, some others are red or blue. In spite of everything. And I feel, every day stronger, the unstoppable desire to capture them in a photo.
Because I'm a streepher.