Let me explain. After attending a regular group meeting organized by a nearby Roman-Catholic parish that actively works within the red light district, Franchina and Wonder, two deeply religious transvestite prostitutes, invited me to accompany them while they shop for a table cloth for the next day’s get-together at the church. On our way back, having worked the whole day without a lunch, I suggested taking a coffee break. In a hurry, my mind jumped to picking a centrally located café with a summer garden right under a great tree where I leisurely sat every morning, ate an early breakfast, planned and set my goals for the day. To me, this was just another typical Italian café. Only after sitting down and ordering, I realized that the place was crowded and Franchina didn’t feel very comfortable.
Neither Franchina, nor Wonder were dressed unusually, nor did they attract unwanted attention from other guests, yet her face betrayed a discomfort caused by a sense of being out of place. After years of seclusion from a major part of Sicilian society, she was not used to coming out of her forced social exile, much less being confronted with a reality that was seemingly within reach – in fact, only meters away from the red light district, yet always beyond that invisible wall that separates her life from the lives of the others. Presumably, having realized herself that this place was nothing out-of-the ordinary for me, I must’ve instantly lost a bit of a that hard-earned trust that we’ve been painstakingly building by sharing our stories over the course of the past weeks.
Simply put, I strive to do worthwhile documentary photography because I care about the people and issues I pick. Yet, this care always carries a risk. The professional friendship that I maintained with Franchina and Wonder started slowly growing into a personal one and in turn, while letting my guard down, I started feeling the need to include Franchina and Wonder in my life more deeply. For a moment there, both our veils lifted a bit too much and we both realized that the gap between our day-to-day lives is too vast to be traversed in the space of a few weeks.
I quickly finished my coffee, picked up the tab and resumed the previous route. Franchina was relieved and, in the end, I lucked out: the episode did not affect our relationship as much as I thought. My care for the girls in the district has always been one of a deep connection and worry and this mindset won out over the lack of shared life circumstances in the long run.