“See Naples and die.”
— Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Italian Journey, 1786.
During the golden age of Spanish Bourbon rule, Naples was considered one of the most opulent and enchanting cities in the world. Many found it impossible to leave, only doing so upon dying.
In a modern context, the phrase may be read as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the over-documented gang violence of the city. While outsiders may associate the phrase with the presence of the Camorra and glamorize the idea of violence and organized crime, they understand it solely through the lens of TV and film. To me, “See Naples and Die” bears a much more complex reading.
Over a year I was guided by the locals into the heart of this multi-layered city where eccentricity thrives, flamboyant clothing is paired with machismo, and gender politics is the opposite of the expected.
My project focuses on four of central Naples’ historically rich and contemporarily volatile areas – Forcella, Quartieri Spagnoli, Rione Sanità and Santa Lucia. Over a year I was guided by the locals into the heart of this multi-layered city where eccentricity thrives, flamboyant clothing is paired with machismo, and gender politics is the opposite of the expected. Here, where others seek easily identifiable caricatures such as ‘the brute boss’, I saw people filled with contradiction and the troubles and joys of everyday life.
I was invited to share glimpses of their private lives, slowly coming to understand that to see Naples entirely would actually take a lifetime, perhaps giving new meaning to the phrase “See Naples and Die”. This project scratched the surface of my experiences and in many ways is the beginning of an on-going investigation into one of the world’s most vibrant and mysterious cities.
— Sam Gregg
Editor’s note: This project was selected as a Juror’s Pick for the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2020. We encourage you to explore all of the winners and finalists to discover a wide range of contemporary photographic portraits.