Capri and Amalfi
“I’m a British photographer and writer based in Paris and I’ve spent most summers over the last ten years visiting the Amalfi coast. It’s a place that has inspired and attracted everyone from D. H. Lawrence and Gore Vidal, to Escher, to Jackie Kennedy, to the Hollywood royalty of today. With a reputation for refined luxury and outstanding natural beauty, the Amalfi Coast and Capri occupy a privileged, even aspirational, position in our imaginations. It was always so, since the days of the Emperor Tiberius, who made Capri his summer residence and refuge from sweltering Rome and its politics. Today, the area is touristed as never before, for this is no longer a place to be discovered, but rather somewhere known in advance, through the seductions and gravitational drag of photography. Each of us knows this photography, the same tedious, generic images, reproduced ad infinitum. And so the attraction, the pull of place. Our’s is a technological, image-saturated age, to which each of us is expected to contribute. Photographic clichés are everywhere and unavoidable. Photographers and tourists alike – there is no longer any distinction – travel to Italy in pursuit of the same photographs, to seize for themselves what they have already seen from afar, to contribute their own repetitions to the interminable deluge of images. And so, to quote Roland Barthes on photography, ‘we live according to a generalised image repertoire.’ Here I am, read these images, for it is the I, anxious and unseeing, asserting its solid presence in the world, that becomes the subject of this work, rather than the places and landscapes on the other side of the lens.
When we look at these endless images, I wonder, are we seeing these places at all? Can certain repeated images end up devouring the original, the locations themselves? Those places continue to exist, yes, but any confrontation with them now stands in relation to these images. As is so often the case in our sad modernity, a place that once inspired and provided refuge for artists and writers has become a compulsory stop on a destructive trail of unthinking consumption, a place for individuals to declare their existence and prestige.
“When we look at these endless images, I wonder, are we seeing these places at all? Can certain repeated images end up devouring the original, the locations themselves?”
My assistant and I recently spent two weeks searching for the other, hidden side of this celebrated corner of the world. Our aim: to return with images that restore the area to its intensity and silence, and reveal its overlooked corners and local life. The irony was not lost on us: such a project of discovery, of uncovering, is already a well-worn trope of so-called travel photography. Once, artists and writers travelled to this part of the world, to embed themselves in a culture by turns calm and chaotic, to settle among and be inspired by the last remnants of smashed antiquity. It’s yet another cliché to talk about how this world has vanished. And yet. Forget the thronged beaches of Positano, and those other confected scenes we’ve all seen countless times before. Instead, we give you views of places of refuge: on the far side of Capri, unreachable Casa Malaparte, mystical and brooding, simmers in the afternoon heat; Villa Sofia Loren, its green shutters sealed against the Mediterranean light; the secluded cove adored by Jackie Kennedy; the shaded gardens and vertiginous views of the Villa Cimbrone. Interspersed with these are glimpses – detached views – of what this part of the world has become: Capri beach clubs viewed from a distance through the trees, even the Capri funiculaire packed with visitors as it rushes up the hill. There is local life, too: a policeman directs the traffic in Amalfi, a worker manoeuvres a luggage buggy through the narrow streets of Anacapri, a lone waiter prepares the terrace for lunch at one of Ravello’s most luxurious hotels, and locals purchase fruit and vegetables from a market stall.
Somehow, the sadness of our strange modernity emerges in these images. What, I ask, do such places have to do with the way we live now? Why do we travel here, or anywhere, anymore? What do we expect to see? If we expect to be transformed, into what do we anticipate being changed? There is a bitter paradox at the heart of this story, and it’s one we are by now all too familiar with, a paradox representative of our century: these places were first popularised and converted into legend by those who sought to escape the gaze, politics and judgements of others. Today, these former refuges are destinations that only confirm and multiply our judgements for other eyes. We arrive at these places to be seen. And so it is that we document these places photographically, obsessively, compulsively.
Words and photography by William J @william.joseph12
Assisted by Emily Holdup @holdupe