Selected by Unseen Platform
If it was a state it would be anarchic
If it was a flag it would the rainbow
If it was an industry it would create sins
If it was a house it would have four doors
If it was a neighbourhood... that would be San Berillo in Catania
In the heart of Catania, a coastal city in eastern Sicily, the historical district of San Berillo is located. The neighbourhood, held together by a network of winding streets, small piazzas and generations of architectural and urban change, is somewhat a relic of fading grandeur. Following a major regeneration project in the post-war period, the neighbourhood was gutted of its former inhabitants and mostly abandoned. Today it has a reputation for crime and drug dealing and is home to one of the largest red light districts in Europe.
But this was far from the impression that photographer Salvatore di Gregorio was interested in painting. Instead, the Sicilian artist turned his lens to the neighbourhood’s inhabitants, a diverse community made up of many different religions, races and genders, all living side by side. ‘You always think of The Godfather or the Mafia, but Sicily is as multicultural as any other place…I was eager to show the world a different side: playful, colourful but also grimy and salacious.’
The series title Taliami e ta fazzu petra, which translates from Sicilian to ‘One gaze and you’ll turn to stone’, is a reference to the Trinacria, the national symbol of Sicily and the Greek mythological character Medusa. It is also an ode to the people of San Berillo: proud and unyielding, causing people to stop in their tracks from a single glance.
It was in this spirit that Salvatore approached the project. Enlisting the help of Fabio Merche, a close friend, stylist and creative director of Petrie Inventory Magazine, the pair developed a vision for the project that sought to complement the individual characters of the community – styled by Fabio and photographed by Salvatore. A young man, fierce but tender, is bathed in golden light, his jewellery glistens in the sun. Another figure, back turned, flaunts jewel-encrusted heels, sequined trousers and a leopard print shawl. Honing his focus on real people and real communities, Salvatore took reality and embellished it, challenging negative assumptions of the San Berillo district. ‘It helped me to de-contextualise the area. Not because I didn’t want to capture the reality of this neighbourhood, but because I like to challenge the viewer to adopt an alternative perspective and to think differently.’