London-based photographer Morgan Hill-Murphy has been on a long trip to Italy. Living in Bagheria, a town next to Palermo for just over a month, the photographer headed out with an open mind, thinking a loose photography project would come of it, maybe. With no forced plan in mind, he adopted the Sicilian routine. Days begun by going to the market, popping back to the same cafes, he regularly went to church. Morgan wanted to “understand what it is to be a Sicilian,” and in turn, he’s created a series that makes us all wish we were.
Rather than Rome, Florence or Naples, Morgan headed to somewhere a little unknown — Bagheria isn’t a place usually reeled off in a list of Italian must-visit destinations. “I’m not sure why, but I’ve always felt more comfortable in places that are completely alien to me,” he tells It’s Nice That. Admitting he’s not a photographer who’s good at convincing strangers to pose for him, Morgan took his time. At first, his images tended to be “wider, less personal” he describes, depicting Italian familiarities: sun-drenched images of a town square, older men smoking cigarettes or a group of children running towards the sea on the beach in the early evening when the Italian light is at its finest.
Soon, however, Morgan began “to know the people and became a familiar face,” he describes. His photographs began to take shape as he and his subjects were comfortable. Morgan got a bit closer, and his photographs more intimate.
A particular place where Morgan became a regular fixture was the church, a ritual event “where relationships and personalities rise closest to the surface,” he explains. It was here that Morgan’s portraiture is introduced, capturing the closeness of family in an image where one crowd round squeezing and kissing a young altar boy on the top of his head. It wasn’t particularly the religious connotations of church that Morgan aimed to portray in these photographs either, but rather the routine. By spending his days as the Sicilian’s do, the photographer gradually started “to extract little bits of everyday life that make-up identity”.
Despite his relaxed outlook on the project, and an openness to letting his camera fully lead the way, Morgan’s the first to admit that he “won’t pretend that the pure beauty of the place wasn’t a factor,” he says. “It’s a playground of incredible light and fantastic wrinkly old men just waiting to be photographed. I’d spend quite a lot of afternoons in the main square where the older men of Sicily sit out their days in the sun, occasionally gesticulating to one another and playing cards, just waiting for a great shot.”
In his calm, unforced attitude towards the project, Morgan only wishes “that a Sicilian would feel like I’d done them justice without bringing any preconceptions to the table,” he says. We’d like to think they’d be chuffed.
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