The emotions that the mentally ill feel are splinters of an indecipherable world for them and every sensation enters the rooms of their mind, disconnects reality and takes its own path, made up of many small intersecting spheres.
“The Forgotten” is a journey to the brink of madness, in the universe of Italian and African psychiatry, in the human search for what madness is: the gestures, the looks, the time of those who find it hard to live the emotional and fast pace of reality.
Being able to decipher the process of those with mental problems is a complex thing, because madness is not one and is not reflected in a single image, but has a thousand different forms that bounce from person to person and grab the unconscious by the tail causing it to shut up or scream, or simply whisper a language often foreign to those around them. Sick people need different care and attention because their perceptions are constantly changing and make the “voices” they hear from time to time or all day change. My photographic report began by observing. Before starting to photograph, I didn’t take pictures but I kept trying to decipher the space and time of those who sat for hours looking at the void and those who moved frantically without stopping talking. In Africa I met the power and strength of Grégoire, a sort of black Basaglia, who dedicated his entire life to recognizing the mentally ill as a person. He thus managed to save a man lying in a dusty hole on a road in Togo and take him to one of the centers he founded for abandoned psychiatric patients. Here men reduced to skin and bones, eaten by time and emotional scars, have the opportunity to recognize themselves, not to be at the mercy of their inner spaces. I tried to snap the fixed gaze of the patients that echoed in the colored silence of their rooms where they remained motionless, in a sort of imaginary inner embrace. However, mental illness in Africa is also that of psychiatric hospitals in Zambia, where I have seen men bow down and paralyzed for hours without moving, or that of the streets of Nairobi where mental patients scream and curl up lying near the market. In Italy I have been to all centers that host psychiatric patients: from the SPDC to the REMS where those who have committed crimes are locked up, passing through communities, clinics, family homes and the actual prison. A world made up of little things, attention and silence, but also many daily difficulties to overcome.
The story of mental illness has thus become another chapter in my constant research on the world of the invisible that I have been pursuing for over twenty years: an anthropological investigation into what is the lost freedom of those locked up in prison, of those who use drugs, of those who are deaf and now of those with a psychiatric problem.
Defined as “the poor man’s drug” due to its low cost (a dose can cost less than a dollar), paco is a poor quality and extremely harmful product: the processing waste from coca intended for European and North American markets is mixed with various chemicals, kerosene, glue, rat poison, even powdered glass, and distributed in the poorest neighborhoods of Latin America, where the main buyers are minors.
Smoked like crack, paco has a very short-lived effect and leads to addiction in an equally short time. In no time, addicts find themselves needing 50 or even 100+ doses a day.
In the first years of the millennium, following the economic crisis in Argentina, the consumption of paco in increased by 300% in the country, creating an army of very young “walking dead” (as those who use it are called) willing to do anything to have their share, with devastating human, social and health effects for entire communities.
I worked for over 14 years on this project, traveling around South America and telling who the kids who smoke paco are: their environment, their families, where they buy the dose and how hard someone tries to get out of this terrible addiction that brings to death.