“Obiettivo Sensible” is my last ongoing project, focusing on criminal justice and the carceral system in Italy. My interest in the topic follows an enduring strand of thought within my artistic and academic journey, i.e., a concern for the fate of minority groups, with specific attention to migrants dealing with structural and circular forms of racism and symbolic violence, in the process of navigating their cultural and civic life in Italy. After researching the effects of the language of exclusion spoken by political and mediatic actors in the public discursive realm, and then analysing the bureaucratic dimension of such process, this project offered me an opportunity to move a step further in my reflection. Specifically, while researching the connection existing between justice and visual narratives, I convinced myself about the pivotal role played by law-making and jurisprudence in institutionalising the aforementioned forms of discursive or cultural stigmatization; criminalization, to be perceived as the act of turning someone into a criminal by stating the illegality of her/his actions, finds its de-facto implementation within a specific institution, the prison system.
Indeed, detention centres materialize the physical dimension of exclusion, constituting the space where the subject is concretely made invisible, concealed from the public’s visual field. Not surprisingly, the research I have conducted concerning the state of being of Italian carceral system revealed the persistence of the same power relations and structural inequalities I registered in the society of free. By focussing on the presence of migrants among the incarcerated population, what emerged was a trend of over-representation of foreigners. Delving into details about the actual living conditions of migrants in prisons, their increased problematicness arises. The incredibly high presence of Moroccan, Tunisian, Romanian, and Albanian detainees in the youngest segments of inmates (54% in the range 18-29 y/o), a symptom of the failure of many migration projects, or statistics proving the scarce regard for different cultural needs are very meaningful in this sense.
Having said that, my project answers the will to investigate the physical space of prisons, to make them break forth in my camera’s and my viewers’ visual field. Thus, I have spent three weeks travelling around my region taking photographs of the exterior of prisons, intending to create a visual archive of the Italian carceral landscape, while visually reflecting on the physicality of the apparatus of power they embody. The shooting process was extremely meaningful. The dialogue established with the subject made me question the meaning of freedom itself. While standing in front of prisons’ walls, the dialectic between the space of freedom and that of imprisonment concretely affected my perception of that space, mediated through the power asymmetry I was experiencing.
Thus, such visual research caused me to cope with a trope of the debate on ethics and photojournalism. The camera is an instrument of power since it gives the photographer the capability to represent its subjects and to shape, in so doing, the reality that goes through its lens. Such power becomes even stronger when the camera is pointed towards the invisible and when the photographer aims at shedding light on subjects or objects concealed to the viewer’s gaze. Nevertheless, together with power, comes accountability. The photographer is doubly answerable, to its subject and its public, and the representation its camera creates has to be respectful towards both of them. My challenge in investigating the carceral system was manifold. To realize images that talk about the victims of a deceitful and biased criminal justice without actually representing them, but, at the same time, being careful not to objectify their condition. To offer to my public complicated pictures that generate discomfort and confusion towards the institution, in a way that prompts the viewer to radically question it.
My response to such a challenge evolved my artistic practice into a gestural intervention on the images, which was the result of a quasi-impulsive and enraged reaction. The gesture of scratching the negatives becomes an act of blatant protest but also answers the will to elaborate a photographic practice that is capable of shaping multiple levels of interpretation, involving the viewer in the process of deconstruction of reality.
This project also corroborated my belief in the importance of the endless and controversial debate on ethics and photojournalism. In fact, it lays the foundations for a self-critical and respectful practice, while it urges photojournalists to seamlessly question and rethink their visual language, in the pursuit of a more comprehensive and critical narrative.
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Davide Lhamid - Peronsal Website