Mariano Silletti (1972, Italy) joined the Carabinieri, the national military police of Italy, at a young age, in 1991. He later studied photography, and has now come to combine these two aspects of his life, making artwork of his police work. In his series Ludovicu, he tracks the case of a 57-year old Romanian man, Ludovicu, who left the house and disappeared without a trace in December 2013. The man, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease, was reported missing by his wife. Silletti describes searching the impoverished town centre where Ludovicu lived, as well as the surrounding countryside – with no success, and no signs of the missing man. In this interview, Silletti speaks with us about photography research and police detection.
When did you start to take photographs? Has it always been related to your police work?
Photography came into my daily life thanks to a gift, a Yashica FX-3, with which I spent much of my adolescence. I always thought of photography as a tool to explore certain emotions that are, for me, difficult to express in any other way.
I started to study photography because I felt the need to technically improve my skills and to confront myself with the work of others; comparing myself with other photographers is, for me, crucial. Both photography and my profession have contributed to my development of a greater sensitivity and attention towards what surrounds me.
I had often played with the idea of telling the stories I came across through my work: the reportage Ludovicu was an opportunity to describe a current event in a very unusual way, through the eyes of a policeman or, rather, a different way of interpreting reality. Mine is an advantageous point of view, and I think it’s interesting to unveil it through photography.
Is there a reason for the choice of black and white?
The black and white is definitely an artis
tic choice. I started to photograph taking black and white analogue pictures and printing them by myself in my darkroom. I consider black and white very effective in revealing the shapes and shades of my subjects; a language capable of giving a strong image to a subject who, if in colour, may appear unremarkable.
Do you take photos for work to document your research, and evidence of crimes? I can imagine that the photos you would take for that purpose are purely signs of evidence, but your project Ludovicu definitely has traces of you, your emotions and your heart.
Ludovicu was the first project in which I used photography as a research tool, and I liked the relationship between that and my work. Just recently I started to photograph corpus delicti, and I am very attracted by the idea of collecting anything from instruments used for the offense, to everything that has served indirectly to ascertain the consummation of the crime – the responsible parties, the circumstances and more. But, I must say that, for professional reasons, I cannot reveal much.
In the case of Ludovicu what I tried to do, as a policeman/photographer, was to analyse the details of the story from the policeman’s point of view, starting to investigate before taking pictures. I believe that one of the peculiarities for a policeman is that he can have a direct relationship with the story. I think it was my position as insider that overwhelmed me and forced me not to be detached.
My interest in chronicling and storytelling, together with my personal emotion towards a story that seems like many others and feels almost banal, until you meet the bewilderment and fear in the eyes of a lonely, hopeless and helpless wife, represent things that mingle together and probably say something about who I am.
Photography, as well as my profession as police officer, is a way of being for me: I am a policeman because I'm passionate about the idea of being useful to others, to get close to people; but I choose to be a photographer as a way to allow my emotions not to get trapped.
Your unique point of view as insider to the story is probably your 'beauty mark' as an author. Do you intend to continue pursuing that, or are you thinking of exploring stories from the ‘outside’?
As I said, I consider myself a privileged person because I can experience unusual situations that often have a strong emotional impact. I think I will continue on this road but I don’t want it to become a mere exercise of style. I'm passionate about people and all the situations related to daily life: for example I love street photography, another photographic genre that I practice, because it lets me be ironic, and sometimes irreverent in the description of everyday life, without falling into banality.
I will continue to photograph for sure, that much is certain, but I don’t know where my explorations will lead me. The future is an open book.
How is your approach and work seen by your colleagues?
I’m lucky to have colleagues who fully respect my practice as a photographer and support me in new experimentations and storytelling.
I’m proud, at the moment, to have earned the strong interest from my superiors, who saw in Ludovicu a beautiful and careful narrative, which also shows the humanity we have as soldiers.