Trish and I prolonged our American Academy in Rome trip
to western and south-western Sicily by two days in order to go to Enna for Good Friday. We were not disappointed.
There was an electricity and a sense of expectation throughout the city during the afternoon. As the procession began, the atm-osphere was transformed into one of mystery and eeriness. Rows and rows of hooded figures, resembling to me nothing as much as the Ku Klux Klan, paraded behind a band through the streets. Between the rows of marchers would be little girls dressed as angels or as nuns.
The figures of the dead Jesus and Mary on her throne, grotesque, larger than life size, dominated the procession.
After the visit to the cemetery,
the procession returns to the cathedral, and the thousands of marchers disperse.
On the way back to the Palermo airport and our return to Rome, our driver took great care to point out where the two judges for whom the airport was renamed—Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borselino—were assassinated by the Mafia.
Presented with mystery, Joel doesn’t peel away the layers that muffle and obscure the truth. He gives us more layers, so that the elusiveness of the images becomes their truth. On Good Friday, he takes his camera to Sicily, to record the procession of penitents through the city of Enna. He does not argue with the devout or debunk the strange rituals in which grown men dress in hooded robes and little girls don nun’s habits. His camera is an instrument
of curiosity. In this exhibit’s collage, the penitents are a mystical blur of motion and light, while a little nun stands solid and whole at the center (the only complete human figure we see in this exhibit.) Framed by the ordinary blue-jeaned legs of her elders around her, she seems so incongruous that she might be a vision only the photographer can see. Her gaze is frank, her hand open in a gesture of welcome or benediction. It is that directness that draws us, even more than her odd costume. ‘Who are you?’ Joel asks with his camera. She answers right back: “Who are you?”
–Ann de Forest