Between 1960 and 1997, the idyllic Italian island of Sardinia witnessed a series of kidnappings at the hands of the anonima sequestri sarda – a group of vigilantes meting out justice according to a traditional, local code of honour known as the codice barbaricino. Over 37 years, 162 people were kidnapped for ransom, with some of them killed.
The kidnapping of seven-year-old Farouk Kassam in 1992 is particularly vivid for Sardinian-born-and-raised Valeria Cherchi, who was the same age at the time. The case instilled in her a profound fear. “I clearly remember the news, during his fifth month of imprisonment, that the upper part of his ear was found by a priest on a mountainous road in Barbagia, central Sardinia,” she recalls.
Eleven years later, Luisa Manfredi, the teenage daughter of Farouk’s convicted kidnapper, Matteo Boe, was shot dead on the balcony of her home. No-one was ever charged with her murder, and it remains a mystery to this day.
Cherchi’s attempt to make sense of these events is the project Some of you killed Luisa, a combination of VHS screenshots, close-ups from family videos and authentic news footage reporting the events – “like taking a portrait while the person was not looking”. It also factors in her own response with documentary photography from her research in Barbagia, and pictures inspired by both personal memories and stories recounted by the taken, “which reflect on the desperation of two mothers: one unable to control the fate of her young kidnapped son, and the other unable to find justice for her murdered daughter”.
A written account of her investigation accompanies the multilayered visual narrative. Exploring the cases among the small, closed communities in Sardinia was not straightforward. “Research is tough in Barbagia, because of omertà [code of silence] and the Sardinian people’s characteristics: caring but suspicious and stubborn. So it takes a lot of time to gain trust,” says Cherchi.
Salvatore Vitale, who nominated Cherchi this year, says her work “manages to build a bridge between sensations and reality. She tells about one of the most famous yet dramatic stories that became part of Italian history using a strong narrative that follows a personal and unique perspective. Her ability to play with languages and media enhances the viewer’s understanding of such a subtle and obscure subject, made of blood and kidnapping, pride and folklore.”
A former student of fashion photography at University of the Arts London, Cherchi returned to Italy two years ago to work on the project. “Aesthetics and execution are very important and they need to live together in the same image,” she says of her work. “The image has to intrigue, and of course it has to tell a story.”
In contrast to her meticulous, methodical research tactics, her approach to image-making is more instinctive. “I don’t like forcing myself with a camera,” she says. Her stylistic influences include films by Fellini and Kieślowski, the paintings of Giammarco Falcone, the stories of Raymond Carver, and Emma Dante’s theatre. Though rooted in local culture, there’s a wider, psychological impulse to her oeuvre.
“I am obsessed with details, complexity and people,” she says. “I spend a lot of time thinking about why people act in a certain way.” Attracted to “stories with some darkness and a certain grief,” Cherchi adds that “photography is the excuse to explore all these aspects, but the act of shooting is only part of it.”
valeriacherchi.com This article is taken from BJP’s 2018 Ones to Watch issue www.thebjpshop.com Valeria Cherchi is one of five Ones to Watch whose work BJP will be exhibiting this year at Peckham 24, which takes place over the Photo London weekend from 18-20 May www.1854.photography/2018/05/bjp-peckham24/