Sometimes I Cannot Smile
ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT
An intimate, personal journey into the greenlandic juvenile world where nature, boredom, violence and a strong cultural legacy have been claiming for decades the highest and saddest “toll”. That of hundreds of young lives.
The experiences of Ole, Elvira, Kaleeraq, survived to several attempts, are not just single isolated stories but the mirror on the fears of a huge part of young greenlanders incline to suicide. A documentary that brings a different social perspective on the 3.000 Inuit community of Tasiilaq and the other 6 villages that make up Greenland’s east coast.
Greenland has the highest suicide rate among young people. Almost twenty percent of them attempt to end their lives every year. Two percent succeed.
It’s a far journey to greenland. Up there our conception of life and death shakes, priorities are inverted, elements shuffled. A fatalist, dichotomous approach to life. Black or white, without shades in between, raw and cruel.
It’s about surviving, often psychological.
A delicate exploration of the subtle and intimate war many young people fight against violence, boredom and emptiness, a struggle that has always been the “raison d’etre” of young generations, the difference being that in east greenland many of them lose that battle.
From 2009 to 2012 i went back and forth to east greenland trying to paint the environmental, social and psychological landscape of this community, with no psychologists and with local goverment for decades being in denial of a societal affliction that, according to experts, goes back to the dawn of this civilization.
This self-produced project turned into an award-winning short doc, a documentary and a book, “Sometimes I cannot smile”, self-published in 2013. These pictures are an abstract of the book created as a part of the wider Arctic Spleen project.
Born in Reggio Emilia in 1972, Piergiorgio Casotti graduated with a degree in Economics / Statistics from University of Parma.After finishing several photography courses at Pratt Institute of New York City in 2005, he found work as a fashion photographer, but longed to pursue his real passion of documentary photography. Since then, Piergiorgio has been exploring the unique dynamics of societies around the world through constant interaction with the people and places that shape them. His photography balances strong personal emotion with documentary qualities. In 2010 he began working with video, enabling him to tell stories in ways that photography does not allow.
7 thoughts on “Piergiorgio Casotti – Sometimes I Cannot Smile”
My reaction to this is complicated. I really do not want to comment at all. I see a big dichotomy here. The photography is powerful, masterful, the issue real. Each photo captures a truth in the moment and tells a strong story, all firmly nailed to the title, “Sometimes I Cannot Smile.” Yet, as an essay describing a people, I find it superficial, crafted less, it seems to me, to get at the larger truth than to serve a predetermined theme.
My Inuit brothers and sisters are more than this.
So much more.
There are a couple of things I wonder about, too, like the couple passed out in the living room. How did the photographer come to take this picture? Was he a guest in their house? Did he take advantage of their hospitality to catch them helpless at their worst and then to present them in this way to the world? Would he go to a party at the home of a respected citizen in his own community and do the same to them or their other guests? Or did they know their guest would show them this way and were they somehow good with it?
And why does he think that children playing on a drying rack do so by force? Would they not perhaps play there even if there was a fancy playground 100 yards away? Did he hear the songs the Greenlandic Inuit compose and sing? From traditional drum dance songs to opera to rock and roll, hip hop – all with their own Greenlandic flavor? Did he hear the laughter that emerges even during the most hard and bitter of times?
Would it have weakened or enhanced his message to have presented a touch of this? What would be a better weapon against suicide? A portrayal that makes all appear hopeless? Or one that adds a touch of the hope and underlying strength that is there? Perhaps, on an individual basis, it was cathartic for those young people who talked to him about their failed suicide attempts. I hope so.
There is always hope. That little girl pictured in your book and interview whose future you cannot see? I know that little girl, many times over, through decades. I know her when she is small. I know her as a teen. I know her as a woman, young and aging. Yes, I have seen her grow to habitual drunkenness in her village, to stroll Fourth Avenue in Anchorage and to walk the streets of Nuuk and Sisimiut as well… I have stood at her graveside and shared in the bitter tears. I have also seen her grow to do wonderful things – to sing, to dance, to be a playwright, an actor, an artist, an educator, a politician, a business woman…. a hunter and sewer, keeper of the culture.
There is always hope.
There are some amazing pictures here – that one of the teens standing around. Grim, for sure – yet it may not occur to all who see it that they might be looking at equivalent of teens hanging out in the mall. Those two young hands, reaching down to touch the polar bear fur… to touch themselves – wonderful! Powerful!
In that picture, I do find hope.
Well said, Bill. Art and reality loses out to propaganda. You see it in so many essays that just pile on one negative image after another. And leaving morals about accurately depicting reality aside, just looking at it from a pure storytelling perspective, a story about hopelessness is exponentially stronger when an element of hope is part of it.
From what I see in these Greenland essays (wasn’t there a very similar one recently?), I’d medicate myself into a constant stupor and probably end up killing myself too. There doesn’t seem to be any other realistic options. But of course there are. I’m not saying one should shrink from the hopelessness, but one should not shrink from the hope either. Together they tell a much more powerful story.
I watched this a coiple of weeks back and it really moved me. and I thought of you.
Al jazeera really are doing some fine journalism.(dont know if you guys get the english channel on your side of the pond, if not its a shame)
oops. Didnt let me put the link in.
I’m afraid my above comment may come off as more than I intended. Though I strongly agree with the nature of Bill’s questioning, the word “propaganda” is not the one I should have chosen as it connotes a purpose to deceive. I don’t think that this or other well-meaning essays that I might categorize as having too narrow a perspective are meant to deceive. Quite the contrary, I realize that the intent is to enlighten, and consider that to generally be a good thing (though as Bill points out, if the photographer deceives his or her subjects in order to enlighten a mass audience, then that opens an entirely different can of worms).
Anyway, however poorly phrased it may have been, I meant the part about storytelling to be constructive. Without contrast between images as well as within them, most readers/viewers will likely find monotony.
Also in a constructive vein, I was just reading an interview with Ridley Scott just now and he succinctly made a point I have often struggled to explain:
“Your landscape in a western is one of the most important characters the film has. The best westerns are about man against his own landscape. I think people have lost the ability to do that.”
One of the most common criticisms I make about photo essays is that the photographer fails to show the environment in which the characters do whatever it is they are doing. That’s unfortunate because the environment almost always plays a part in shaping character. And as per Scott’s quote, this essay is certainly about man pitted agains his own landscape. I think the photographer does a fairly good job of conveying that struggle and, for me, that is its greatest strength. But I don’t quite see the landscape in this essay as a character in and of itself. Maybe something to ponder.
Thanks for the link, John. I hope I get a chance to see the documentary. Last month, there was a news report about Al jazeera starting up a new network in the US to compete with CNN, MSNBC, Fox, et al; but so far I have not seen it here.
Mike, I appreciate the thoughts and agree, the landscape is a character, one most often not fully utilized.
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