Walking on an empty street of London: the illuminated windows, the colours and the shadows are always different.
Behind every window there is a story, a relationship, a bond: we can look at figures, perceive desires, secrets, but mostly silence. What would it be like to have access to this space of mysterious intimacy?
Silent Figures — a series of images straddling real life and fiction — was originated from my need to visually express the darkness I was feeling inside, the deep solitude I felt within a relationship that I was in at that time.
I started taking self-portraits, looking through my inner window, but then came the desire to investigate other people, how they experience the contradictions of the couple’s relationship: on the one hand, the desire to share and the need to bond; on the other, a sense of estrangement, a desire for escape.
The title was decided keeping in mind Hockney’s way of representing individuals and the silence that can be perceived from his representations.
The conceptual idea of the work was inspired firstly by Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragment, and then energized by the writing of Verhaeghe’s, a Belgian professor of clinical psychology and psychoanalysis. They suggest that the world outside, and the society with its rhythms and its temptations, act as a mirror to individuals, affecting their behaviour: identity is a balance of tensions, and individuals are torn between the urge to share with and the urge to distance themselves from the other.
Hence, my curiosity to confront the subject of solitude and identity within a couple’s relationship.
My aim was to develop a personal visual expression through scenes of everyday life set in a peculiar atmosphere, sometimes on the verge of strangeness.
The silence is expressed by subjects being immobilised by overwhelming thoughts, fear, problems, and caught in the fleeting moments of daily life.
The key words in this body of work are ‘loneliness’ and ‘alienation’. The couples never look at each other, there is no eye contact between them. This was my artistic choice to visualise this moment of solitude.
Their ‘Home’ was the location for the shoot, where people feel relaxed and secure, the place where you’re not supposed to wear masks.
I decided to work with authentic couples because I wanted my perception of reality to be grounded on a very genuine experience.
Merging both my feelings and theirs, I created images which became the places for personal projection, where there are no theories nor solutions.
There are just stories.
Shot initially on film, pictures were then digitally combined and edited to make the final images, each with its own story within. It is worth pointing out how important the editing was in the process, in order to emphasise the colour palette and to give the pictures a different appeal, an element of surreality.
Pictures were always taken in the evening, to achieve total darkness and to create a quiet mood, as many painters do. I like how the American Photgrapher, Crewdson, does this, evoking how darkness influences the human behaviour.
The recruitment process was the most challenging part of the project.
Creating trust was crucial in order to create a dynamic in which people who are not actors could be comfortably directed and staged, .
As part of the commitment to the project, in one of the pictures I, the photographer, changed role — moving from just being an observer to also being observed (see my picture below).
It was important to merge the photographer’s experience with that of the other couples involved: both parties are aware of being seen, and this leads the project from an unsatisfied voyeurism to the representation of a more intimate storytelling, not just recording a fact.
In all pictures the two individuals are always opposed by visual elements that represent a psychological separation: a shadow, a line drawn by light, a physical barrier.
There is always one of the two people, typically the woman, who is paralysed by her own thoughts, while the other is wrapped up in their state of unconsciousness.
It could be argued that women play an incisive role in the meaning of the picture, although it is difficult to establish whether the woman plays a passive part or whether she is in a position of power in the relationship.
My intention was to sublimate the ordinary and define my own narrative of the so-called ‘reality’.
By proposing a disturbing mise-en-scene, the project describes the solitude within the couple, re-editing the concept of communication.
Through working with real couples in their private environment, the series has a very personal approach, made visible by the explicit use of film lighting and directing poses of the subjects. Research and technical preparation are combined with improvisation, reaching unexpected images, simultaneously poetic and documentary.
Silent Figures highlights much more than what remains imprinted in the camera; it presents a visual elaboration of the meaning of ‘identity’ in today’s society.
NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: We are so pleased to have Francesco Catania guest writing for InSPIre the Mind!
Francesco Catania is a photographer specialised in portraiture. Since the beginning of his photographic practice, the human element has been fundamental in his images.
He is constantly interested in what concerns identity, relationships between individuals and individuals within society.
His photography explores a visual elaboration of the questioning on the idea of identity in today’s society, creating a space in between fiction and reality.
The project is exhibited in London and internationally.
- Instagram: @francescocatania.photo
- Website: www.francescocataniaphotographer.com