The City That Makes You Pass Out

“I find in the Neapolitan people the most brilliant and vi‐ brant industry, not to get rich, but to live without occupation”. – Johann Wolfgang Goethe

 

Every time I go back to Naples it’s like a dive without a parachute in a reality far away from any other social situation I’ve seen in Italy: noble neighborhoods like Vomero mingle with the spanish ones, and the poor, of Sanità.

Right here, in Sanità, back in 2003 I made my first social reportage to denounce the state of abandonment and degradation that gripped those streets.

It was then, for the first time, I realized the mask that Naples puts on its face: a mixture of beauty, decay, life, death, romance, fuss.

Naples - Michele Belloni Leica Photographer - Travel and Storytelling

I was with another photographer (a girl) and I was suddenly and frantically invited by an elderly couple on their balcony on the first floor of a shabby little house, to have a cup of coffee. Only after it was explained to me that the gesture served to save me from the street, where we had been spotted by the underworld and already earmarked to be robbed.

They offered us great coffee, prepared by expert hands, showed us the apartment and I knew immediately where I was: it was the birthplace of “Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comnenus Porfiro Genito-Gagliardi de Curtis of Byzantium“, also known as Antonio de Curtis, known to the world as Totò.

The apartment was kept as a shrine, and all in all it was. After half an hour a whistle from the street and a few words spoken in tight dialect gave us the green light. We said goodbye to the sweet tenants and went down the road trying another photographic approach, and not without a little danger and peril we did bring home a decent job.

Today, after over thirteen years, I continue to visit Naples regularly colliding with all its contrasts. The city is alive at any time, on any day, and I find it more and more vibrant and raw but strongly resistant to changing times: the children still play on the street, people drive scooters without a helmet, and the locals have not yet become slaves to fashion.

Only the city’s central streets are stuffed with new shops and throngs of people jostle to get a better look at the latest technological novelty or trendy clothes displayed in the windows.

The sunshine and typical kindness of these people is still mixed with a strong religious and superstitious streak that stands out in small daily details. It happened under a deluge, with photographic gear around my neck and a simple umbrella that quickly became insufficient to protect me, and I was forced to shelter under a stall in the famous street Spaccanapoli who exhibited “good luck” charms. No time to put one foot under the stall when I was yelled at indicating that I should remove my umbrella from under the stall immediately, because it was synonymous with bad luck.

Anyway Naples is like this and it always will be, and I want to advise you to visit it and try to start a photographic project, a story to tell or a “simple” street photography picture series. Because I am sure that each photograph would be a chapter in itself.

The streets are still dense with ancient aromas and flavors, with clothes hanging from building to building, political satire scattered everywhere and a lot of street artists here and there. And then the colors. Ah, the colors! Despite the fact that I love black and white photography, I rarely take home photographs that aren’t in color from Naples.

Go light, as always: a camera and a lens, both discrete and very small. Be unobtrusive because you can become easy prey for attackers.

Avoid private transport and arrive in the city by rail links that are inexpensive and easy to use.

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