Gianluca Calise

BY Elisabeth Biondi, May 3, 2018

The gift of a camera to a young person is often the beginning of a lifelong involvement with photography. Gianluca Calise’s picture taking began when he was ten years old, and his mother gave him a camera. Years later, his revealing series of images In Waiting, taken in 2014 and 2015, documents the period in which he visited his mother while she was in a coma. After his mother had a serious fall, he commuted from Rome to the small town of Caserta, near Naples, where he had grown up and where she still lived. As time passed without her recovering, he moved back to Caserta, living in her apartment to be at her side.

His life was in suspension, and photography became an escape during this bleak period. Taking pictures of his mother was as much a visual documentation as it was an exploration of life in this part of Italy, of his mother’s love, and of the role of religion, which was central to his mother and to many of the people who live in Caserta, in the south of Italy.

The Caserta of Calise’s youth was a town in the grip of the Camorra, the Mafia operating around Naples. Caserta was in decay, and there was no work and no future for young people. When Calise was 18 years old, he left to study in Rome – he lives in London now but returns frequently to his apartment there. For those who stayed, religion – and with it, the hope for a miracle – was both inspiration and salvation. Calise captures this religious fervor in his pictures of Catholic icons in the hospital and in his mother’s home.

His pictures suggest an increasing physical and emotional closeness between himself and his mother, but there is a distance as well. The hospital pictures capture the detached, clinical environment, but the photographs of his mother gripping his hand or looking up at him are emotionally charged. Even sick, she is a beautiful woman whose face expresses her love for her son. She came out of her coma briefly but stayed in the hospital until she passed away, a year after her accident. Calise says she was a strong, and sometimes difficult woman, but his photographs suggest the strength of the bond between them.