Friday, 16 October 2015

Tony Gentile and his Faces of Fear, Anger and Grief



Anti-mafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Palermo 1992 by Tony Gentile

All pictures by Tony Gentile from The War: A Sicilian Story

The first time I saw the picture of the anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino was last year when Giuseppe, a student from Sicily on the Doc Phot course at USW Cardiff, showed it to the class in a seminar. He talked about its significance in Sicily, how it had attained iconic status as an anti-corruption, anti-mafia symbol, how it had become more than a picture. It is a picture of people who made a difference that made a difference,

The picture was taken at the height of Sicily's mafia wars. Falcone and Borsellino had been part of a secret legal team standing up to the brutality and corruption of the mafia and the political, judicial and legal elites whose silence they had bought.

 And if they hadn't bought the silence, violence and threat of violence would do the same thing. Judges, police and prosecuting magistrates who signed arrest warrants for mafia bosses were likely to be killed. Bodies were found on the streets of Palermo on a daily basis. And because of that judges and lawyers stopped prosecuting and signing arrest warrants. That's how it works.



Palermo 1991




Palermo, mafia boss Michele Greco is released 1991

The killings of Falcone and Borsellion led to massive protests. In Sicily, the silence was broken and Tony Gentile's picture of the two friends laughing became a symbol of protest against mafia brutality.

So it's an iconic picture. But Gentile, who was working in Palermo at the time, took many more pictures of the Falcone and Borsellino and the other players in Sicilian and Italian politics. And it's these pictures (most of which have never been published before) that are the basis of his book The War: A Sicilian Story, .

A Sicilian Story is a reminder of the sheer power of photojournalism at its best and what a narrative means in the obvious story-telling sense. It's something quite transparent and it has a driving force that involves you in very direct ways.

On one level, this is a book of press photographs, It's photojournalism mixed with agency pictures of press conferences and public events. It's published in a traditional format, as a hardcover designed for a wider audience than bijou photobook land. It addresses questions of power and shows how meaningful images can come out of the most staged events. There are even huge elements of street photography in there with the wide angles, the crowds, the faces and the dress.

On a more complex level, and where it really becomes something great, A Sicilian War is a record of the alliances that underscored the mafia killings of the 1990s. It's a  history book that is also a study of faces; the fear, grief, and resignation of people who know the mark of death is hanging over them and live with it every day. And it's a study of how murder went to the very heart of what pretended to be a civilised state.


Palermo, politician and mafia associate Salvo Lima testifies during a trial against another mafia-connected politician 1991


Salvo Lima murder 1992

The book starts with an evocative short story by Davide Enia on the all-corrupting nature that killing with impugnity brought to Sicily. It's a story that links very directly to the images, to silence, to family, to killings, and it serves the pictures exceptionally well. So the book also becomes about parents who see their children growing up in a world where the lies of 'honour' are used to disguise violence, who see that rules and morality are just arbitrary tags that have no meaning beyond being platitudes to justify brutality.

Best of all the book is a brilliant study of faces. The faces in A Sicilian War are quite extraordinary in their expressions and they are expressions that Gentile understands and uses in his edit of the book. The pictures these faces appear in have been made by somebody who (like the great Letizia Battaglia) is part of, and knows the world he is photographing. You don't often get that in photography.

So there are gradations on these faces. When I saw the book for the first time, I wasn't quite sure who was who and what was what, but I could see it and I could feel it. There's a familiarity to the book (we've seen some of these faces in movies before now) but a gravity that goes way beyond the mafia cliche. Look at the anguish of Borsellino in the time between his death and Falcone's. It looks like he is waiting out a sentence and it is hopelessly sad.

There's the resignation of Salvo Lima as he testifies in court (Lima was an associate of the mafia who is shown in the next picture lying dead on the ground; he was killed by the mafia) and there is the face of the policeman as he holds back the crowds at the Falcone funeral. There is lots of sorrow in this book.






Giulio Andreotti and Salvo Lima, Palermo 1991

Most tellingly, there is the ultimate mask of Giulio Andreotti, the Italian prime-minister (implicated by Battaglia's photographs no less), and  the isolation of Falcone as he stands alone in a crowd.

There is no glamorisation here. None whatsoever. Quite the opposite.



Giovanni Falcone at judge Rosario Livation's funeral, 1980



Capaci, May 23rd !992 - where Falcone and his bodyguards were killed.


The funeral of Giovanni Falcone and his bodyguards (Francesco Morillo, Rocco Dicillo, Agostino Montinaro and Vito Schifani), May 25th, 1992



Caltanisetta 1992


Paolo Borsellion, Palermo, June 2nd 1992 (he was murdered on July 21st 1992)

These are very brave pictures. Sometimes you see pictures and you say, I could have done that (with the proviso but I didn't). Sometimes you say, I could have done that but why would I bother? I can't say that with the pictures in A Sicilian Story. They capture a place at a time through faces that live and breathe trauma, anxiety and violence.


June 23rd 1992


It's tremendous work!

Buy the English Version of the book here if you can't find anywhere better.

Buy the Italian Version of the book here.


Mafia boss, Giovanni Brusca, captured in 1996



Tony Gentile works for Reuters and is official photographer to the Pope. Follow his travels here.


carezza

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