For his Malamilano project, Gabriele Micalizzi headed to the underworld districts of his home-town of Milan, following the police as they dealt with every form of criminality, while putting the new Leica SL2 through its paces. Talking in an interview, he speaks about his workday, which photographers have inspired him, and which situations will stay with him for a long time.
What was the initial idea behind your project – what drove you to portray the work of the police force?
My initial idea was to work on terrorism. In this specific case, I wanted to concentrate on the preventive measures that big, western cities such as Milano have to adopt these days.
How long have you been photographing this project?
For two months, since July 2019; but the project continues with different aspects.
How would you describe the atmosphere in the city, and the work life of the police?
One thing that I’ve learned working with police, is that the word is always the most powerful weapon. Lots of situations get resolved thanks to dialogue and listening to people who, in such a busy and chaotic city, are very often lonely individuals without any balance or help – especially elderly people.
What was the most difficult part of your project? Were there any situations you just couldn’t or didn’t want to capture?
There were situations in which I didn’t feel comfortable, and I didn’t want to violate people’s dignity or the intimacy of the subjects. I try not to take advantage of my position.
Is there a particular situation that will surely stick in your mind?
Yes, there is one. One night when we were out, they called us from the police station and informed us that there was a girl crying for help in Rogoredo. We found her on the ground crying desperately. She had been beaten and she didn’t want to talk. After a while, we discovered that she was a minor, only 17, and pregnant, and that she had escaped from a community where she lived without her parents. The feeling that arose at not being able to catch the person who had assaulted her, and the trauma of a girl who had been a heroin addict since the age of 12, drew a direct comparison to my daughters, along with the feeling of not being able to do anything about that desperate situation.
You have taken lots of pictures in war zones. What has war taught you?
Working on wars gives you the ability to build connections with situations that are totally different to daily life – and the connections with people become very deep and strong. You could say that war reveals exactly who you are, and shows the beauty of solidarity between people in need. Despite their dramas and tragedies, they always try to share what little they have with others suffering from misfortune – including with us, the journalists.
How did you get into the world of Leica cameras?
When I started with photography, I used cameras that tried to imitate the performance of Leica cameras. The big change came in 2016 when I participated in Europe’s Master of Photography competition, winning the first place. I bought the Leica cameras that I used during the show, and was finally able take pictures that I couldn’t take before: a very fast sequence of shots from a tank in Libya; night flairs in the dark sky with low light situations; or even with really bright light, such as during obsequies in Gaza at noon. I could easily handle all these difficult situations, thanks to the versatility of those incredible cameras.
You worked with the SL first, then changed to SL2. What are the biggest differences between these two cameras?
I had the opportunity to use the SL2 and I noticed that it is a lot more ergonomic in its handling. This is particularly good for me because I’ve lost a part of one of my fingers. I also appreciated the great speed, and the amazing colour tones in low light situations – at that time I was shooting mainly at night –, but also in bright light. I also used the 50mm with the SL2, and I have to say that the rawness is amazing.
Who are the biggest influences on your photography?
Working with Alex Majoli for five years, I’ve met many Magnum photographers. Travelling through conflicts and revolutions, I also met those who are now my points of reference: Luke DeLay, James Nachtwey, Jan Van der Stock, Jerome Sessini, Saman Moises.
After studying Visual Arts, Gabriele Micalizzi began his photographic career as part of the NewPress Agency in Milan. The photojournalist from Milan has been documenting Italy in all its socio-political facets, since 2008. In 2011 he began working on documentary coverage of the Middle East. His work has appeared in numerous international publications such as the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, and Stern. Find out more about him on his website, his Instagram channel and the upcoming issue of LFI magazine.