The following text is a collection of reflections almost all elaborated on the Orte-Rome train, before I stopped commuting because of the Covid-19 pandemic. I pinned them first on my smartphone so as not to forget them and then, calmly, I tried to give them a logical thread. The photos, on the other hand, I took for the most part at Termini station, between April 2016 and March 2020. One of the most important chapters of my life, which helped me discover a side of myself that I did not know yet .
BECAUSE I'M A 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. As a young boy I was often bullied. But not in school. On the streets of my neighborhood! We where in the 70s and the suburbs of Rome were miserable and dangerous. The "Bangers", I called them. They were much older than me, and they get around in bunch. I was around 12 years old. When they sighted me, they came running to kick and punch me. 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: if they had managed to catch me, it would have been even more humiliating. 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!
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 who passed and judged me. In the meantime, seeing so many passersby, I enriched my emotional background by refining observation skills. This experience 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. 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.
I have been commuting for a few years now. 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 circumventing Time for a moment and secretly caressing Eternity.
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, 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.
- 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 laborer, as a porter at the markets (at night), as a baby-sitter, as a bell boy, as the technician of the broadcasting of television programs, as a guitar teacher, 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 have played in pubs and restaurants, I have been a estate agent in Tenerife, as a musical entertainer in a talk show, as a sound engineer, as a pc cabling, as a computer teacher for ECDL, I have taken a two-year course for generalist artist 3D, obtained the Autodesk Certification, and a short photography course, I was a photographer for an event location, as a call center operator, as a 3D graphics teacher. 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. I did many other things that I regretted then. 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.
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 by in that precise moment and not a moment before, or a moment later. I believe there is so much beauty in front of each of us, right under everyone's noses, but sometimes it seems that I am the only one to notice it. And this is precisely the Magic! Actually, I still haven't understood if it was me who chose the Street or the Street chose me. 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. Maybe it wasn't the Street that have chosen me, but the Station itself, asking the train to swallow my camera... Another Magic?
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.
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!
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. 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 to photograph strangers in the station 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.
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!
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 curse. 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 somatic features, exists only in their mind. And not always. Do you remember how naive, innocent and unaware you were? The fact is that life, in most cases, first gets you tested and then teaches you how to pass the test. 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.
(street + photographer = streepher)