I wanted to pay homage to my wounded and naked city.
But who could not have done so?
I wanted to write an article specifically to tell a city that many Romans, descendants of ancient and more careful ancestors, treat as if it were truly “eternal”.
Instead, day after day this magnificent pearl in the middle of Italy deteriorates, wears out, hides and finally disappears under the indifferent eyes of its beloved inhabitants.
The Romans are not all the same, just as the Milanese, the Neapolitans and all the colorful people who inhabit Italy are not.
But many, I would say too many, even if the minority, now pass without taking care of their progress in the middle of an ancient but very present path.
Rome should be emptied, I say that I am extreme, from the center to the first Roman suburbs.
The whole area that rests on buildings, mansions, streets and courtyards still visible, from the period until the early twentieth century, are under layers of human material: cars, mopeds, street vendors, improbable shops with patrons of all kinds.
The Roman artisan shops have almost disappeared. What a pity, what a horrible fate, to make way for cheap franchise chain stores that are the same all over the world.
Each craftsman is (was) an excellent modeler of local and non-local daily life.
But now they are almost gone.
So, even to return to see my beautiful city, I began to go around Rome capturing glimpses and stories that had not been told for some time. But the eye and the light have given the powerful imprint of the disease.
I was not going peregrine: in looking for unusual views, ways and times to tell how beautiful Rome is, I tried to get right where human material is usually more present and upsetting.
I started with the area of “via della pace” and the church of “S.M. della Pace”, which is always and in any case surrounded by cars, but at least there are no scooters leaning against the colonnade.
Here I deliberately exaggerated the closure of the shadows, to cancel a bulky presence and make it lighter, but not invisible, I would say fortunately, in this case.
The light occasionally burned the colors but this made the marbles and travertines brighter which gave inspiration for other glimpses. The sun crept in everywhere, illuminating the folds of the buildings inside and just as strongly bleached the walls.
Difficult shooting situation, but I wanted to exploit to create interesting geometries with the blades of light: blades, like the ones that cut our lives in these hours.
Thus unexpected diagonals stand out, denouncing junctions of ancient buildings, stuck as in a tangram.
Another turning point and we almost enter Piazza Navona. The empty alley acts as a welcoming passage and gently, despite the powerful light of the sun, opens one of the most enchanting views of Rome.
Have you looked at these buildings? Italians and Romans: have you ever really looked at them? How do you do it when the square is full and the shops open? And you, dear tourists, have you been able to do it?
They are wonderful, shining, and they give an iconic frame to the fountains in this silent moment that makes you want to stay here for a long time. In silence.
Because this is the most obvious point of this disaster: silence.
No noise, no voices.
Just a great chat of statues and marbles and fish and tritons. And pigeons …
It almost seems that Bernini’s newt that we all know and who defends himself from Borromini’s church is annoyed by the dazzling sun.
I do not deny it: the range of the machine helps me as perhaps a film could not have, and despite a difference of more than three stops, I can see in the shade and in the light.
But the sun itself opens this immense ship to us, all together, in broad daylight, uninhabited as (almost) never. But full of human emptiness, an emptiness that walks along this bridge, slowed down by silence, by a steady light. It is certainly pleasant to see, but less to live. a city like Rome, empty, looks like a ghost town.
Way of conciliation, St. Peter. Not very empty, because what is really noticeable right now are the many homeless, sitting compostly, walking on foot, never lying down. They are all seen. Only they stand out. And the police.
But the “homeless” are unfortunately many, unfortunately without defenses, without retaining walls, without gloves, masks, disinfectants, without even paying attention to all this.
What is striking is that this human void is filled by them, who wander alone.
I saw them lost inside the city, being part of it like a capital. Disappeared and yet more present. Because human beings who have nowhere to go and close this damned virus behind them.
And then there is the police. A lot, in San Pietro. First check on our presence. Some other photographers, but I have to say few. I was also portrayed by a young colleague, in the middle of via della conciliazione, sitting to photograph St. Peter and his dome, in a heavy, “fat” yellow light, Malaparte would say.
In fact, the sun in that hidden moment made the whole image a little instantaneous, older, more significantly ill.
It is not an empty shot. It is a shot full of emptiness. St. Peter, where is your splendor now?
When we take the scooter back, we stop at our last stop: Castel Sant’Angelo and its bridge.
Never empty of people, I had to wait a few minutes to wait for the last passerby to disappear from my sight and thus give me an unusual image. But the void seems to be invented. They are not places to photograph without a life in between.
The sun was veiled, but every now and then it came out to mirror itself on the marble surfaces.
The water of the Tiber never changes, of a miserable brown green color. Which in these difficult hours is even more dense, almost solid.
I photographed a piece of history immersed in the present, not just history.
A heavy present, but which, in my very personal judgment, is a warning of the environment. A powerful warning.
Industrial machines are stopping. The waters of the world are cleaning up. And Rome is full of birds that fly free in the sacrificial air of nature.
They look at you and seem to say: now it is ours.
Photos and text by Ornella Lotti