It is 12 o’clock on a weekday. An African woman with a colourful dress lights up a sombre backstreet of Genoa. A few blocks further, an old man opens the doors of every shop he sees and shouts wild blessings in his loud, already hoarse voice. He passes a newspaper stand where a crowd of locals try to catch a glimpse of the daily headlines. A heavy policeman who almost makes his shirt button pop controls the tourists who seek shelter from the midday heat on the doorstep of an old church. So many different lives are lived in this moment in the streets of Genoa. So many fascinating photos.
When I had to do an internship for my graduate school, I knew immediately I wanted to go to Italy. I love this country with its gorgeous and versatile landscapes, wildly gesticulating and fast-talking wonderful people and of course their incredible food. As a photographer, it was always one of my favorite countries to travel to. Almost every bit of scenery looks like a photo from a forgotten time. It’s like timetravelling when you drive down the serpentines in Liguria. You pass little villages with ancient chapels, stunning views or illuminated cemeteries at night right at the brink of a cliff 200 feet above the sea surface. I always feel like I’m in a Fellini movie and wish to be rich in the 50s, where money seemed to have more class. Driving in my little red imaginary Alfa Romeo convertible down to my non-existing stream lined ocean blue sailing boat, listening to Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out”.
So, you can tell I spend some time dreaming about Italy. This time I was primarily interested in the people – or to be more specific, the people of Genoa. The streets of the old part of Genoa are basically a maze. A maze with really narrow, often dark alleys where the sky is always just a little slice high above you between the crooked roofs. And it’s a huge maze! The old town is one of the biggest historical centers in all of Europe. More than once I felt lost, or like I was running in circles without even noticing it, occasionally saying to myself, “Didn’t I pass this little plaza one hour ago?”. But that was no problem, because I brought some time and my camera.
The part that distinguishes Genoa from other cities, is that the diversity of human life is so close together. You know how in every city you have areas where people go clothes shopping, some are for groceries and even others are for bars and nightlife? In Genoa everything is right around the corner. I remember a local telling me, “before you turn the corner, take a sneak peek inside and decide if you want to enter”. More than once I walked through an alley with little old delis left and right until I turned right and found myself surrounded by brothels or drugdealers. But this is part of Genoas’ diversity. And the amount of diversity reflects on the people. Or is it the other way around? I’m not exactly sure. You can hear many languages while you pass by the Genovesi. And you see all kinds of scenes. An undertaker yelling into his phone in fast Italian right next to the open car with the coffin in it, three nuns chatting and giggling wildly, people daydreaming or a beautiful father and son scene. It is really everywhere when
you start watching close. You really get endowed with these kind of moments in Genoa.
For this series, I had to confront myself with my inner dispute of photographing people. Though I always felt humans are the most interesting subject, I always avoided shooting them. I was shy but also I didn’t want to invade their private life like a voyeur. Asking them would have meant that the photo completly changes. I don’t have to explain any photographer how much a facial and body expression changes as soon as people know they are getting photographed. But like I said, people are so goddamn interesting. So this time I just did instead of overthinking it. And I really loved working on it. It was exhilarating. Sometimes I used a really guerilla kind of technique, like Daniel Arnold, and rushed through Genoa snapshotting. A shop owner closing for lunch break, snap. A woman falling asleep on a bench in middle of the day, snap. A couple both wearing a red jackets arguing with another couple, snap. The ones that came out good, have a level of authenticity I have never experienced before.
I will never forget Genoa and even though there are so many places in the world to visit I think I will come back, buy myself a piece of torta di verdure and get lost again in the big dark maze under a slice of blue sky.