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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT
A Sea of Light
essay foreword by Machiel Botman
“Let’s call it the yellow photograph for now: a street sign with half an arrow, a woman touching the sign and looking at where the arrow points. Behind it all a yellow sea of light, a colored landscape, cityscape that is too good to be true.
(who-ever said that things must be true)
Elena Perlino’s photographs are not carefully constructed images, all have the sensation of immediacy, as if she is passing by all the time. One might call what she passes by ‘little moments’ that, had she not been there, would have stayed unnoticed. In a world where everything is constructed, reality and fantasy, these ‘little moments’ escape us often, and when someone shows them to us we might not accept them.
Some make it easy for us, Richard Avedon’s Boy and tree in Italy is one of these beautiful floating moments, but all the same boy and tree are carefully orchestrated in a pose that we know, that we have come to accept. Perlino’s photographs are made of different stuff and at first glance one might say she does not make it easy on us.
The woman in the yellow photograph seems to accept reality as it is, by looking into the obvious direction where the arrow points. Someone who knows about clothes might tell us the woman is upper-class and waiting for a taxi. That’s where the truth begins and ends and begins again.
To me this woman is an immigrant, coming from yellow country, waiting to be collected to go somewhere else, somewhere where all is supposed to be better, where the sun always shines. Yellow country is still very much part of her, that’s where she is rooted, that’s where she is leaving behind those she loves, those she hates. Yellow country still follows her and I am afraid it always will.
Photographs like this always make me wonder. Where does the photographer come from, where does she go? Is Elena from yellow country, collecting proof some people are leaving? Or is she a future girl, pulling in people with invisible threads?
Good photography, like good writing, or good cinema, leaves the viewer free to do as he wants and in that way Perlino’s images, perhaps one more than the other, do not make it hard on us at all.
She has paved wide roads for us to walk on, with lots of light and exotic colors, with the presence of people, she is a people girl. There are gas stations staring at us with big eyes that look like lights, there is a man about to touch the cigarette to rid it of too much ash, there is a nude woman showing a muscle behind her skin, there are ghosts in the street, shit. But apart from what there is, we are free to make our own context, to decide what it all means. Until not very long ago, this would freak out the sensible world because this maker fits in no box. I hope dearly that by now we can accept these images as strong and beautiful gifts that need no explanation, that just need a little imagination.
My only worry concerns the messenger, the photographer if you like. She appears to be a lonely soul, detached from then and there – I hope she accepts these gifts as means to stop now and then, to get out and touch.”
Elena Perlino (b.1972) grew up in Piedmont, Italy. She graduated with a degree in History and Cinema from the University of Turin and attended at Reflexions Masterclass in Paris. Since 2003 Elena has been working on human trafficking and migration in the Mediterranean area. She was selected as a Nominee for Magnum Emergency Fund 2011.
Elena Perlino is currently running a photography project about Nigerian trafficking on Kickstarter.