“In St. Louis, ZIP codes matter,” says Piergiorgio Casotti, an Italian photographer who lived in the US for three years. “North of Delmar boulevard, 95% of people are black, and life expectancy is 67. A few hundred yards south, 70% of people are white, and there is a life expectancy of 82.”
Index G, a collaborative project he’s made with photographer Emanuele Brutti and curator and book designer Fiorenza Pinna, explores the harsh reality of this segregation, which is measured with the so-called Gini Index. Where once racial segregation in the US was obvious, and even enshrined in law, it’s now peppered throughout cities on a micro level, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, and can therefore be easy to miss. “There were unexpectedly very few literal barriers in St. Louis; this meant that our first trip was a disaster,” says Casotti. “I didn’t know what to take pictures of.”
Realising that the disparities could be traced in subtler ways, Casotti and Brutti have used images which work more symbolically to tell their story – showing the many abandoned houses in the area in black-and-white, for example, to represent the broken livelihoods of their ex-residents. “For me, the shots of the empty houses are very telling,” says Casotti, who originally studied economic geography. “The colourful street images represent the American dream and the fact that the inequalities are not visible from the surface.”
The project is based on a fictional screenplay that Casotti wrote about American society, having witnessed racism while living there, and established a “love-hate relationship” with the country’s “decadent society”. He hopes the images give a context to his text, which is included at the end of the book. The dummy of Index G was shortlisted for awards at Kassel and at Rencontres d’Arles, and it has now been published by Italian outfit Skinnerboox.
“The photography and text have equal weighting,” says Casotti. “I’ve been wanting to mix the two for a very long time and I finally felt that this was the right time to do it…I like to tell stories of lives that, even through the language of photography, scratch the surface of things digging for what the eye cannot meet – and sometimes revealing it.”