“I think a photographer is just a writer who expresses himself with images”. The words of Enzo Sellerio, a great Sicilian intellectual who become photographer by chance. He was, together with his wife Elvira, the founder of the publishing house Sellerio, that was a cultural enterprise fostered by the passionate dialogue with two great intellectuals from Palermo: the writer Leonardo Sciascia and the anthropologist Antonino Buttitta. 

Sellerio, a controversial figure, was born in 1924 in Palermo, a city that he hated but never left, and where he died at the age of 87. He claimed that Mafia was the only one vital form in Sicily and that widespread lawlessness in his land showed how the sacrifice of judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino had been in vain. “I live in my home, not in Palermo” he once said with a hint of bitterness.

Graduated in Law in 1944, he participated in a photo contest in 1952 achieving a prize of 50 thousand lire and the publication on an important Sicilian magazine. His black and white images are inspired by neorealism, that in those years prevailed in cinema and literature. Sellerio, with his camera, could involve, strike, outrage or soften the observer. We owe this motto to his lucidity: “Watching the centre from the periphery to find that the periphery is the centre”. This declaration of intent led his activities as a photographer that from the beginning elected Sicily as the ideal fulcrum of his universe. A land redeemed from its arduous and marginal condition which he scrutinized even when doing so was bitter and frustrating.

The Sicilian writer Vincenzo Consolo wrote about him: “Sellerio’s photography, like true art, is very allusive and metaphorical”. Sellerio moved to America when he was forty years old. However, he soon returned to Sicily. In his land, despite having travelled the world, he realized the reportages that made him more famous. He documented, for example, the experience of the sociologist and poet Danilo Dolci as well as the towns around Mt. Etna. and, of course, Palermo. In the sicilian capital was taken the shot we present here, where some children of the neighborhood called Kalsa played as a firing squad. The picture is dated 2nd November 1960, during All souls’ day when boys often received a bb gun as gift. It is interesting to note the presence, in addition to those boys, of a distant group of girls, in front of the Church door, looking at what is happening curiously. That’s not all. There are also four adults who talk to each other and none of them seem to notice the scene, or maybe they voluntarily disinterested in a game that perfectly replicates what their eyes had really seen in the same square of the Kalsa neighborhood in Palermo few years before, during the Second World War.

One year later, Sellerio presented his photo at an exhibition and declared: “Could I have ever photographed a real execution? I don’t think so. I recorded that scene because it was just a game, that is, the form in which life should be lived”. Enzo repulsed violence and often found himself face to face with many killed people in Palermo streets. As a result in the 70s, and until 2006, he interrupted abruptly his activity as photojournalist in his hometown. His last work, realized in 1961, for the Swiss cultural magazine Du was a report about Palermo for a monographic number dedicated to the city in addition to another about Etna landscapes for the Christmas Eve in 1962.

That of the Sicilian publisher is undoubtedly a photograph of “people”, or, even more, of Sicilians. He was a passionate witness of the faces and the places that surrounded him without ever falling into folklore. His neorealist gaze allowed apparently conflicting elements to live in the same frame, suggesting to the observer the presence of a complexity on which it is worth thinking to dwell for a long time. Sellerio also as publisher, still being a decisive presence in the Sicilian scene, promoting young talented photographers through its publishing house. In early 2006, surprisingly, he accepted with a spirit of challenge, the request, by the weekly magazine Lo Specchio of the newspaper La Stampa, to realize a report about the Zen, emblematic quarter of the contradictions of Palermo.

Translated by Daniela Marsala