The psychologists call it cognitive dissonance. An unease when confronted with something wholly unexpected or implausible or impossible, but nevertheless right there before you. That’s what I felt when I looked at the glossy pages of Vogue Italia. There was my Vittoria. Dressed in an elegant dark pants suit and sunglasses, hand on hip, looking upward. Then a stark image, her eyes hidden by the fall of her golden hair. Photo credit: Massimo.
The photos weren’t much better than the many I had already taken of Vittoria. She was a natural model, she knew how to project any number of engaging looks. What’s more, she had a sure instinct as to what backgrounds would work well.
For instance one day Vittoria told me to bring my cameras because she wanted me to take her picture in a place she discovered north of Philadelphia. We parked the car in a lot, then walked a wooded path alongside a river.
“Here!” she said.
A gnarled oak, with exposed tangled roots, stood on the muddy bank. Across the river were the buildings and stacks of a steel mill. She sat at the base of the tree, hand on chin, and assumed a melancholy, pensive look. I instantly saw the metaphor. The twisted, complicated roots were her family, her history, which had a stranglehold on her. The mill was reminiscent of the precisionist painter Charles Sheeler, or the urban works of Georgia O’Keefe. I framed the scene in my Nikon’s viewfinder. She knew exactly what this picture would be—a poignant autobiographical statement, an expression of her sorrow. Thus it was more her creation than mine. I merely pressed the shutter button.
As for Massimo, well, I had an idea of the world he lived in. It was in the pages of that thick, heavy fashion magazine. Literally hundreds of emaciated teenaged girls, in a drug-induced supor, staring at the camera or into space. An endless procession of lost souls. Heroin chic, they called it.