The Illusionist

Photography allows Gianluca Micheletti to remain on the periphery while keeping him emotionally connected to his subject. Here, he talks of Igor the illusionist who, like the photographer himself, finds solace in distance.

Photography allows Gianluca Micheletti to remain on the periphery while keeping him emotionally connected to his subject. Here, he talks of Igor the illusionist who, like the photographer himself, finds solace in distance.

"I was given my first camera when I was eight – a Kodak Ektra 12. It was a gift for my First Communion. I still have it today. Naturally, I started taking pictures with it right away. I was absolutely fascinated by this new 'apparatus' in my hands and took pictures of everything – toys, my uncle’s bicycle, my father’s car, my cousins. In fact, the first photo I ever took was of my cousins (below). You can even see my shadow in the picture. I used up the entire roll of film that day," says Gianluca Micheletti.

He recalls feeling impatient at having to wait for the film to be processed. "At the time, one-day photolabs didn’t exist – you had to wait a week or two for the film to come back. And when it finally did, I was disappointed with the results – all my pictures were off-centre, out of focus or misaligned," he says. 

"Despite this, I was so taken by the camera that one day I used up an entire roll of film taking pictures of the view outside my bedroom window – an entire roll of identical shots of an industrial shed just over the field. I guess that’s why my parents never bought me any more rolls of film – because of my tendency to shoot random photos. So the camera was put away in a cupboard, forgotten, which is probably why my passion for photography didn’t take root until I was much older," says Micheletti.

He was nearly 40 years old when he decided to take up photography in earnest, so he bought an SLR. Initially fascinated by its technical ability he was soon captivated by what he describes as "the expressive potential of photography." However, it was a workshop with Sara Munari in Berlin in October 2012 when a new world – "the fascinating and complicated world of photography" – opened up to him.

That same year, Micheletti met Igor – a performer in a small circus. "His show was the attraction that captivated me most – seeing Igor brought me back to my childhood, when I was both enchanted and frightened of those mysterious performers – the “fire-eaters”. I was so intrigued that I asked if I could spend some time with him and this is how the series Igor began."

"Igor is a magician, an illusionist. He started doing circus shows with his uncle at the age of five. From the age of 19 up until he was 31, he lived with a guy who beat him. His mother died in 2006 and his father, unable to cope with the loss of his wife, committed suicide a few years later. Igor has considerable health problems and has undergone a number of surgeries. Today, he does fewer shows and takes care of his animals, especially his four chihuahuas – Tatino, Venus, Zac and Jemy. He’s been living with his current partner, Luke, who’s seven years younger and is often abroad on business. I think they’ll get married before long."

Micheletti captured this photo (pictured) during a show rehearsal in the courtyard of Igor’s house. "It was 31 January 2015; it was cold and there was snow in the fields. Igor was rehearsing his repertoire of illusions, concentrating intently on precision and imagining an audience before him. It was all well executed."

"As part of the show he used smoke to create the illusion of the dog’s appearance inside the cage. When the blue smoke rose from behind the chihuahua, I saw the image clearly inside my head – everything was perfect and I snapped. The dog was still and perfectly centred," he says.

"In the series, I try to show the Igor of today: a person torn between desires and hardship who makes magic to hide the sorrow of his past and the uncertainty of his future."

Micheletti sees himself in Igor – someone who creates illusions as a means of self-preservation. ‘I can be extremely shy, insecure and distracted. I remember as a child, during lessons in class, I’d always gaze out the window. My mind was always somewhere else; I was always lost in my thoughts. I became more and more introverted as an adolescent, and although I had a large group of friends, I always sought "safe" places – a refuge – where I could watch the world outside, like a spectator, an alien. I think this attributes to my difficulty in expressing myself. Photography allows me distance while keeping me emotionally involved.’

To learn more about this project, visit Gianluca Micheletti's PHmuseum profile.


Behind the Picture tells the story of a single image by a photographer from the Photographic Museum of Humanity’s online community.

© Gianluca Micheletti, from the series Igor

© Gianluca Micheletti, from the series Igor

The Illusionist

© Gianluca Micheletti. The first photo Italian photographer Gianluca Micheletti took, at age 8, of his cousins in Italy, using the Kodak Ektra 12 he had received as a gift for his First Communion.

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