Holding up a Mirror to Reality

Stepping away from traditional modes of visual storytelling, Francesco Merlini composes a visual poem articulated in mono-syllable verses flirting with anxiety.

© Francesco Merlini, from the series Farang

Like many photographers of the younger generation, Francesco Merlini started to shoot his daily life and compiled a diary of random experiences with no particular intention. Tempted to challenge himself, he jumped on a last-minute offer from his sister to go to Thailand for a holiday and traded the beaches for the streets, looking for images. There, a “farang” (Thai expression for “foreigner”) in an unknown land, he redefined his photography.

The result of his many wanderings is a catalogue of subjects rather than of places. “From my point of view, it’s easier for the audience to project themselves in the image if you don’t give too much information about the surroundings”, he explains.

© Francesco Merlini, from the series Farang

The flash, the night, the verticality and the simple composition of his photographs allow for such detachment to happen. The background disappears and each image becomes a symbol in its own right - a tarot card, Merlini would say - the Batman girl, the staircase, the cage, the moon hunter, the towelled head, and so on. “I didn’t want to take objective pictures of reality. I was rather trying to make mundane things look interesting”, he pursues.

He expanded his approach to other places he visited over three years - Southern France, Istanbul, Kosovo - guided by hazard. Yet, recurring elements surface, such as death and sex. At a porn fair in Milan, he took a photograph of hands fighting over a naked body. “I was expecting it to be sexy and sensual but I realised that it was hell. You see all these old men punching each other to take a picture of a dancer, or families bringing their handicapped son for him to touch boobs”, he remembers.

© Francesco Merlini, from the series Farang

“However, I am not a photographer with many stories because I am somehow egoistic in my way of taking photos. I am not interested in telling who the subject is but in speaking about the idea that I have of the subject. Most of the time I don’t interact with anyone.” The narrative thus draws from his filtering of the world and from the possible interpretations of the result - half-photographs, half-visions. “If I were to use a metaphor, what one sees in the photograph is a reflection of a reality in which I am the mirror”, he concludes.

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Francesco Merlini is an Italian photographer. He is represented by the photojournalism and storytelling agency, Prospekt, and by Le 247 Gallery, France. Follow him on PHmuseum and Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

PHM 2018 Women Photographers Grant
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