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Naomi was my neighbor, and the first person in London to say ‘hello’ to me. A strange woman, I thought… Yellow eyes, violent mood swings, desperate cries, and a lot of anger. She allowed me to photograph her.
She was always drinking and talking to herself: an internal monologue about war, rape, and her family who didn’t want her anymore.
Her dad had said ‘call me when you’re sober, otherwise don’t bother’. Only her older brother Thomas still passed by to take care of her.
She had a six year old daughter, who had been taken away, and now lived with her father. She had not been allowed to visit her since. She loved her, had her pictures on the walls… and looked at them all the time.
On April 23, 2008, Naomi died. She got hit by a van. Thomas sent me an e-mail:
‘Hi Jacopo. Naomi is dead. She died earlier today on Brixton road. She was hit by a Courier van and died instantly. I just thought you might want to know. I will post you details of her funeral to see if you can make it. all the best, Thomas Benjamin.’
I graduated from a Technical Commercial high school in Rome in 2002. I have been involved in street theatre and experimental work by following the guidance of Lisa Ferlazzo Natoli. She has been an important figure in my development. With her guidance I had the opportunity to experiment with the theatre’s details, short backstages, and a reportage about her completed works.
In 2003 I joined the ISF-CI (Istituto superiore di fotografia e comunicazione integrata), where I took workshops with photographers as Antoine D’agata, Patrick Zachmann, and Letizia Battaglia. I graduated in 2006. In 2007 I spent a long time in London, where I made the project about Naomi’s life. Once back in Italy, I did an internship in the 10b Photography studio of Francesco Zizola and Claudio Palmisano, assisting with different work in the studio. I’m currently in New York attending a full year program in Photojournalism and Documentary photography.
41 thoughts on “jacopo quaranta – naomi”
sad story. powerful essay. captions could be left off. can’t believe it’s London – don’t know why, just doesn’t add in my head. would need to know more and want to know more – this is one of the powers of photography which to me means that you have in some way succeeded in your trade. I like it. a fitting memoriam imho. Well done.
I felt london in this, an all too familiar london…echoes of a past life. Powerful portrait, I like the texture, it fits the story well. People will say “what did it change?” and “whats the point?” about work like this; always have, always will. What matters is that you did it, and did it well and honestly. A small record of an otherwise un-noticed tragedy.
Although a tragical story, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen, of whatever with my eyes, all week. Digging the grain, the colors, the way you build the essay, the broken window which makes me think of her death. The captions doesn’t help the essay much, as they rarely or never tell anything I can’t already see.
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You’ve captured and shared the beauty of this person. Thank you. It’s really good.
“This melancholy London- I sometimes imagine that the souls of the lost are compelled to walk through its streets perpetually. One feels them passing like a whiff of air.”-yeats
Checkov wrote that there are always 2 lives lived, the one that life and circumstance grants us, the one we end up living and the second life, the live we live doing what we love and care about and imagine, the life we really are and yet the 2nd life, the one most important, is often the secret life, the one that noone sees, that noone rarely cares about or understands or gets…..it is, in the end, the most profoundly melancholic thing to me about each life….that still most of us, all of us, look at the life we see rarely listening, paying attention, to that secret life, the life that each person is, really is, and yet is hidden by the cloak of the outer world….generally, we are bling to that…awake to our own secret love and life but blind to others…the small, quiet tragedy of most of our lives…
i too have watched a friend, a neighbor, a loved one whose life has all but gone away from most of the world and it never, fails to break my heart….if only we owed those other lives and the lives of others more, so much more…
a heartbreaking story…the 1st photograph, my favorite, is filled with so much of all that the rest of the essay fills in….heartbreak and loss and strength and music, as marley said, that makes the water for the taste….more than one love….much more…
that first photograph…cant get it out of my skull…
in a word, the world: heartbreak….
thank you for sharing the story and honoring in the way you know best
jacopa, it took me a few viewings to even notice there were more pictures, it was such a strong portrait that i thought it was a stand alone…potent work.
and i’m sorry for your loss.
Jacopa, the opening or first image is absolutely beautiful and touching.
as with john.. london / city dwelling all over this..
utterly unforgiving places when life drags us sideways.. and stepping out of the furious pace of the place is dangerous in more ways than one.
dad used to say he saw an accident every week involving couriers while he drove his taxi..
one life representing far too many lives.
wow! strong stuff Jacopo. you really get a feel for her. that opening portrait….!!! the color – the palette – the whole visual language of the essay is great :)
what kind of film were you shooting with?
love the grit..
great photo essay….
really tells a story…
* I think you could lose some of your captions…. your photos tell the story… sorry for your loss of a friend.. and I wonder where you were with your image making with her.. was your story complete before her death? or was it an ongoing project? *
very strong pictures. I read the text afterwards. It hit me. By your pictures she is close.
as the others say – the opening portrait.
good you told this story.
Red hot set of pictures. Got me thinking about a lot of things.
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Hi to everyone, some of you make me cry with your comments, thank you very much…
I left London after a while because the situation with my landlord was bad, he was totally sneaky, and he didn’t want me to go to Naomi’s home or photograph her, and was a lot of time in my place to control or similar…he stoles my pots saying was of her mother…I was kind of depressed because I couldn’t help Naomi, I tried, I made research, but was impossible…
So I came back to broke a little and then I wanted to come back, but was too late. She will stay in my life forever, and the thing that some people saw this story makes me feel better, and crying at the same time, I didn’t help her but I hope that her story will stay, so in a certain sense she didn’t die…
I know that the caption doesn’t add anything, because I didn’t want to give a judgment in any sense of the story…
Thank you very much for everything you wrote, it means a lot to me.
A beautiful, sensitive, soul. I speak of the photographer.
And her subject.
How mean and lonesome and hopeful this life can be.
I have been to London but one time but yes, I could feel the place, too. A good friend of mine died in Barrow while I was there; a bright, intelligent, person with all the promise in the world who drank herself to death. I got horribly sick and thought I might die.
I wonder how many people I infected on the airplane, coming home?
I hope none died.
Your essay brought all that back to me.
I feel like I know Naomi now. Of course, I don’t and yet I do. Better, I suspect, than some who did know her, but who never saw your photos.
I was especially moved by photos #12 and #17.
In number 12, I recognized the poster with the two sets of footprints where the person who walks through despair and wonders where Jesus is discovers that He was walking by her all the time.
So she had belief and faith.
In 17, it is the Martin Luther King poster shining through even as she battles her boyfriend.
So she had a dream; she had hope.
As to the captions, in some cases they add nothing but in some cases, they do, as “in the daughter’s room.” In no case do they distract – however, the way that they are displayed does distract. I don’t know if it is possible to have captions appear beneath the photos rather than atop them in the program David uses to build burn.
Beautifully photographed. I feel that images from the funeral, if you have them, would help lend a narrative arc to the work.
This is one of the most powerful stories I have seen on Burn. It has added resonance for me because I lost a friend under almost identical circumstances – and I have almost no record of their life. Heartbreaking. I look at these pictures and notice that for all the misery, there is no despair. Thank you Jacopo.
This made me cry. We all have someone in our life in a situation that can end up so desperate that there seems like no hope of resolution, and these photographs are powerful enough to bring this home and also, show’s the character of her and the desperate predicament she’s in. The Bob Marley poster’s on her wall are so loaded, as is the single microwave on the floor. Its too sad..
You must have had much trust in their eyes..
Damn. Sad, tragic story. I wish you would have documented the funeral. Otherwise, great work.
Number 15… my god.
Jacopo, this is the best essay i have seen on burn. Honest, unpretentious and genuine. Nothing about these images tell me you judged Naomi, you seem to have treated her as a freind you happened to take photos of, not a photo subject. Your wanting to help her resonates through the images and your words.
My father is going down the same track as Naomi. I usually can’t look at images of alcoholics because it makes me so angry. I had to walk out of Richard Billinghams’s show “rays a laugh” when I saw it, it was too raw too familiar.
That’s the funny thing about photography- you always leave traces of your predjudice and who you are all over the images. If i had shot this I know I wouldn’t have been able to focus on Naomi like you did, I would have been blind to the sadness of it all. But Jacopo, your images have taken me there. To another mindset where I can see the tradgedy of this, not just the selfishness and the remnants of my own childhood weaved into her story. And that is probably a bigger acheivement than you will ever know.
I can’t say congratulations, because although your images are incredible it just doesn’t feel right. But thank you for affording some dignity to Naomi, and thankyou for showing them to us. This image will stay with me for a longtime.
Thank you very much Frostfrog, Liam, and Peter Grant, and all the people who wrote wonderful things…I thought I would never cry again for Naomi, but with the things that people wrote from the heart, made me cry again… :)
I wish I had documented the funeral too, but I think the family didn’t wanted, because when she died all the breaking news photographers were after them, so I think they were pissed off, and I have a sensibility to leave people in their space when they need…it’s a choice, a wrong choice from a photojournalistic point of view, I know…
(It’s not an upset answer, sorry if it looks like my english it’s not still really good, so it’s difficult to express myself well, it’s just to answer why I didn’t photograph the funeral).
Cool. Pleased to see a colours essay! Very nice theme… Love your colours. congrats
In a different thread, David Alan Harvey speaks of the challenges involved in shooting a mundane reality and that is, I think, the challenge you were up against. I know that will seem counter-intuitive to many, but the sad fact is that an upscale happy gay couple is exponentially more rare in this world than a poor, troubled young woman on the margins. So what do your photos tell us? What could they tell us?
From a storytelling perspective, you hit all the notes: Drinking, crying, dirty kitchen, heaps of clothes, toast in the filthy sink, sentimentality — the stuffed animals, inspirational sayings poster, daughters toys and pictures — fighting, anger , the pathos, the pathology. Everything promised in the statement is delivered in the slideshow (though I would like to have seen a closeup of the yellow eyes). Still, I’m struck by the feeling that something is missing. Can’t exactly say what it is, but I feel it. There is a lacking.
Two things you might consider, and maybe you have. Since the situation you are photographing is so commonplace, find something anomalous and make that a subtext. I don’t know if this qualifies, but I was struck by the fact that she makes her bed. A little island of order in all that chaos? Does that tell us something? Also, and I suspect this will strike many as sensationalistic or maudlin or manipulative, I’d consider getting a photo of her tombstone, or scan the obit or the story in the tab (particularly if there were photos) and ending the essay with that. It would give it an emotional punch I think it lacks . I agree that one should take care in these matters, but think in this case it would be honest rather than manipulative. It’s not like you don’t tell us anyway and shouldn’t the emotional punch come from the photos, not the text?
Bottom line is: I very much like your effort and much of the result. “Good work,” is what I hope you take from my comments. That, and my hope you are able to briefly enjoy the accolades, but let that pass and consider how you could have better told that story. Because it could have been better. Just about all of them could, true, but you’ve really got something here.
On a technical note, I’m curious why you chose to go with the gritty look? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all opposed to gritty looks, just curious. Was it a question of making do with the available equipment or was it a choice?
No. No gravestone picture needed, much more powerful this way.. and I don’t think it lacks emotional punches..
Of course it’s not her complete life, but it is what she shared with the photographer, what she trusted him to take.. and I bet what he gave in return is not less.
Grazie per averci fatto conoscere Naomi, Jacopo!
Regarding editorial decisions, I dislike telling an artist what he or she “should” do, though I think it’s okay to suggest people consider alternatives to what they’ve done.
But speaking in general terms, I’d say a photo essay should tell its story with photographs. To paraphrase Paul Strand, if you’re gonna tell the story in words, why lug around all that equipment?
(Sorry to break the one comment rule, anything further I’ll take up elsewhere)
Really wonderful essay. Very touching and intimate, sad. Beautifully photographed. Loved the color and high ISO. I think many would have shot this is B&W but you have succeeded in making the mundane, small details come alive.
Interesting and moving little piece. Like Michael though I too feel as if there’s something missing. It’s like we never really get to know her but of course that may have been her reality. I would assume in addition to having a substance problem she had mental illness issues (often both go hand in hand or really could be considered one and the same) and if one were truly to enter into her chaos that would be the end of that person too.
The broken window at the end is a misstep for me. Too cliche. I would rather have had a strong picture of Naomi. She was a beautiful tragic figure. No metaphors needed.
Did you ever get any photos of her out and about in Brixton? Brixton is so gritty. I would have liked to see her in the larger context.
I’d just like to join the chorus of praise for this work. Powerful stuff.
Yes, the theme is familiar, but there is something very special here that make this essay stand out. For one thing, we are not looking at a standard issue photojournalistic approach, which can make every essay look like every other essay. The compositions are very clean and avoid some of the too clever compositional devices that photographers often rely on. Each photograph delivers its message simply and powerfully. Colour?..absolutely, yes, it is hard to imagine this series without it.
superbly crafted and interestingly executed.
one of the best i’ve seen on burn!
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good photography. thanks.
Great access, compelling imagery with an aesthetic that matches the subject matter.
I liked the captions. Although I agree with the commenters, your photos did a brilliant job of telling the story on their own.
The shot of the kitchen sink, tells so much. Naomi broke my heart. Thanks for a wonderful essay on this woman.
What an incredible essay; the everyday, the mundane, the relational… each in bright colour and beautifully held… I don’t need anything like a concluding image, rather I prefer your work remains open, raw, unfinished… as her life…
One of the best pieces of work on Burn that I have seen. Thank you.
absolutely blown away
I have to agree with so many here. Somehow you’ve managed to capture such compassion. I can’t help be moved to tears myself. I wouldn’t change a thing, except to say that the captions don’t help, so I would leave them out and let your images stand on their own.
Thank you so much for sharing. I think we’ve all been touched by this story and how such a common story can be photographed and retold in such a unique way. So rarely can we say that, and so rarely does it move us like this has. Thank you.
very sweet little story, emotive and honest, captures the spirit.
This is a great essay on a very sad story.
We are too often focused on tragedies in remote places, and cannot see the ones at our next door.
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