Gomorrah Girl by Valerio Spada
“Many of these girls will soon marry Camorristi… Many will bear children who will be killed… But for now they are just little girls in black. They weep for a friend… Annalisa is guilty of having been born in Naples. Nothing more, nothing less.” —Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorrah
On March 27, 2004, fourteen-year-old Annalisa Durante was fatally shot in the back of her head outside her family home, caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting; the intended target, nineteen-year-old Camorra boss Salvatore Giulano, was accused of using the young girl as a shield. Though Italian journalist Roberto Saviano had spent some time infiltrating the Camorra — the centuries old mafia-like organization that controls Naples — it was ultimately Annalisa’s tragic death that encouraged him to write his impassioned exposé, Gomorrah. Annalisa’s death is also the backbone of Valerio Spada’s Gomorrah Girl, an examination of the fraught relationship between female adolescence and the culture of violence defining present-day Naples.
Gomorrah Girl combines Neapolitan landscapes and portraits by Spada with rephotographed pages from the police investigation of Annalisa’s death and exists as two intermingled books. The worn pages of the police report — printed on something akin to newsprint — are interspersed with Spada’s own smaller, glossy photographs. You cannot view one without seeing the other. As a result, the lives of these young women and the landscape they occupy can only be viewed within the somber context of Annalisa’s death, producing a disquieting overtone regarding the future of the young women depicted.
The crime scene photographs from Annalisa’s death are analytical, unsentimental and sterile — ballistics images, streets covered in evidence markers, approximations of bullet trajectories. They attempt to document and explain. And while they are necessary, there is a dark irony — no matter how much this crime is picked apart and the evidence is analyzed, it is ultimately an unsatisfactory explanation for a senseless event.
Spada’s images of young women are highly charged; there is a tension at play, a sense that something is amiss. Allusions to childhood — Hello Kitty, Daisy Duck, oversized headbands and plastic jewelry – appear duplicitous in the company of his subjects. They do not feel like children; they appear sexualized and desensitized to the violence that surrounds and subsumes them. The faces of these teenagers are viscerally hardened, projecting austere personas developed for survival.
A jarring picture that presents a telling metaphor for both the loss of innocence and the marginalization of women depicts a lone woman shooting up, completely ignored by the three men to her left. The photograph was taken in one of the most dangerous places in Italy known as “La Scuola” or “I Puffi” (The School or Smurfs House), a name that refers to the locale’s former life as a kindergarten. A place intended to educate and nurture youth falls victim to a culture with little room to experience childhood.
Italy is often associated with the Coliseum, Pompeii, Tuscan hillsides and quaint cobbled roads. It is a struggle to conceive of the inhumane underbelly of a place we so blissfully romanticize. Hollywood portrayals of mafia-like organizations such as The Godfather or The Sopranos conceal the reality of these groups and their implications on society. Spada pulls the rose-colored glasses from our eyes, forcing us to consider how the intimidation, violence and machismo perpetuated by the Camorra reverberates through the fabric of a major city — the third largest municipality in Italy. The final photograph in Gomorrah Girl leaves us uneasy. The thirty-one year old “killer of Scampia” is positioned on a motorcycle in front of a series of apartment buildings, staring straight into the camera’s lens. His girlfriend, who did not want her portrait taken, is almost entirely obscured; all that is visible is a small sliver of her face and downcast gaze. Leaving us to wonder — what will become of these Gomorrah Girls?