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It has been almost ten years since this series was photographed. I remember I was writing my dissertation and studying Henry Lefebvre and his “Production of space” when I read for the first time Envoi, a poem by Mexican poet Octavio Paz.


Envoi

Imprisoned by four walls
(To the north, the crystal of non-knowledge
a landscape to be invented
to the south, reflective memory
to the east, the mirror
to the west, stone and the song of silence)
I wrote messages, but received no reply


                              Octavio Paz


At the time I was photographing external walls around the perimeter of some London penitentiaries and desperately trying to get permission to photograph the inside of these institutes of justice. Ironically, inmates are desperate to be freed and I was desperate to be allowed in just for the sake of taking a few photographs. The reason why, I am not sure, curiosity I guess was one of the elements. When I was much younger and still living in Sardinia and my Dad was still serving the state as an Anti-narcotics cop, he was the one taking the bad guys inside and I was always asking him to take me with him for a visit. I believe it is part of human nature to be curious about such an evil place which we would never want to experience in our own skin.

Before I began photographing I didn’t know how I was going to execute this project, I had no idea what I was going to find inside and how I was going to react to these places. The one thing I was sure about from the very beginning was that I did not want to photograph the inmates but rather the environment in which they reside, the cells where they live amongst their belongings. I strongly believe we don’t need to see their face in order to feel their presence. Envoi for me was simply a search for the essence of life, “a reinvented life”.  Imagine, someone serving a long or life sentence, you don t know where you belong anymore. Those 4 walls become your existence, your belongings become your identity. Some of those cells where so homely and well looked after as one would do only with their own home.
While I was photographing I was constantly escorted by guards and every time I asked to photograph a cell the decision was down to the occupant. Some of them took so much pride in showing me inside, introducing me to their families through the pictures on the walls, offering me a coffee like anyone of us would do with a guest.


Some people asked me if Envoi had some political connotations. No, I know nothing about prison and this project was never intended to make a statement about the justice system in this country or in Italy or anywhere else, Envoi was and still is simply an outsider’s observation of something that is part of our society without making a political statement as to whether it has the right to exist or not. Envoi was eventually photographed in Sardinia and Sicily after a year and a half of letters addressed to Italian the Minister of Justice. It doesn’t really matter to me whether it was photographed in Italy or elsewhere. It speaks only of life inside.


It was only when I finally stepped inside for the first time that I realised what I was going to do, and that was much more than just a few pictures. I was about to experience something that still after ten years makes my stomach shrink.

On the first day I did not take a single photograph.