Oliver Eglin’s Old Sicily
Oliver Eglin in conversation with Gemma Padley
British Journal of Photography, November 2014
Oliver Eglin's Il Gattopardo series attempts to connect the "certain tragedy" of modern Sicily with the Italian island's past
“I have long been fascinated by Italy, and Sicily felt like the part of the country I was least familiar with,” Oliver Eglin tells Gemma Padley.
“I’d recently finished reading Ernest Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises [his 1926 novel about a group of ex-pats who travel to Pamplona for the bullfighting festival of Saan Fermín] and was inspired to make a similar journey across an exotic land,” the 26-year-old says.
“The novel’s diaristic and modernist style interested me, and influenced the way I went about photographing Sicily. I approached it almost as a blank canvas in terms what I expected to find; my primary intention was to discover the island while making photographs along the way.”
Eglin also read Il Gattopardo [The Leopard] by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa for local context – a chronicle of the demise of the monarchy in Sicily, it gave him historical insight and helped inform some of his route. “The pictures were taken in various locations between Trapani on the West of the island and Catania to the South East. I used Palermo as a base and then moved along the coast from there.” He also spent time in the older areas of the city, including Capo and Alberheria, neighbourhoods he describes as neglected, home to crumbling and decaying buildings.
“This is the kind of background I like to photograph as I feel it lends the images a graphic element and a sense of timelessness,” he says. “I felt the need to enter a specific frame of mind, which meant completely focusing on moving around and taking everything in. I’d get up very early and keep going until nightfall, stopping only for the odd espresso. I found a lot of interesting interiors too; they were often dimly lit, so I used a flash.
“I found the landscape visually rich but also quite alien and confusing,” he adds. “Whether it is the dilapidated murals of a 13th-century church, or the battered corrugated iron roof of a cramped stable, Sicily has a certain tragedy to it, although it is also visually stunning.”
Keen to create a “consistent mood” across the images, the RCA MA student shot with a 35mm camera rather than his usual medium format system, which he says helped to give the images their “raw and unplanned” feel. “I’m drawn to things that strike me as strange or puzzling, and I like to think the images can be both unsettling and beautiful at the same time,” he says. “This incongruity is intrinsic to the way I saw Sicily. The project is near completion – I’m focusing on putting together a final edit and hope to publish a book of the work.”