Silent with Alessandro Bergamini

Alessandro Bergamini’s intimate photograph captures a powerful moment of interaction with a young girl in a war-like environment. The image consists only of this small, innocent child, creating a scene where outside influences cannot affect the interaction between the subject and the viewer. By setting up this isolated space, Bergamini asks the viewer to contemplate the tension between the militaristic environment and the young girl’s humanity. He uses a black and white color scheme to decontextualize the photograph; there is nothing in the background besides a steel-like, gray backdrop. The lack of color rids the image of any vibrancy or happiness, offering instead only a stripped down view of human nature. Patches of shadows and light dance around the girl’s body, which is directly illuminated (perhaps a brief reminder of the flash of the camera). This light accentuates the middle of her face, but leaves her eyes still in the shadows as if she were hiding. That which exposes her, the light, also conceals her, one of many contradictions in this photograph.

Another contradiction is the pairing of her militaristic accouterments with her exposed flesh. She wears an oversized, war-like helmet that engulfs her entire head, yet her shoulders are bare and unprotected. This creates a tension in the photograph that Bergamini uses to expose the dichotomy between violence and human nature; although the two are ostensibly at odds, they are unified here within a young child. Her innocence is striking and overshadows the conspicuous helmet, and is most strongly symbolized by the crumbled piece of plastic in her hand. Its shiny and light-reflecting material, along with its steel color, recalls a knife, but its bendy, flimsy nature makes it non-threatening. Bergamini shares the expectation that someone in a war zone would be holding a weapon, making the viewer question her preconceived ideas about war against the reality of an unarmed child.

This young girl, the subject of the photograph, stands directly before the viewer and stares straight ahead. Bergamini forces the viewer to confront her strong, piercing gaze as she makes direct eye contact with the viewer. Her eyes are the clearest element of the image, so they become the focal point from which the gray tones emanate. The child looks at her opponent unabashedly, but with slight distress in her eyes, showing that her attempts at strength are betrayed by her instinctual fear. Directly below her eyes are her hands, whose out-of-focus quality mirrors their secondary nature. In this image, emotion is more important for human connection than action.

Unlike the power and strength of her gaze, her fists are soft and weak. Moreover, they cover her mouth, silencing both her and the viewer. Communication must then be done non-verbally through the connection made by their shared eye contact. This silent communication forces the viewer to empathize with the girl by providing his or her own narrative for the scene. Thus, Bergamini asks each person who looks at this image to try to understand the emotions of this young girl independently from the photographer.

What do you think of this image?