Johnnie Shand Kydd's Naples

The Photographer Gets to Grips With the Siren City

Photographer Johnnie Shand Kydd is a participant rather than an observer. Best known for his portraits of friends and YBAs including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin (before they rocketed to international fame), his work has an intimacy that’s the result of his total immersion in his subjects—whether they be people or places. For the past ten years the artist has been visiting the southern Italian city of Naples, notoriously dominated by the Camorra (a mafia-like criminal organization). “Like all the best affairs, I just fell in love with Naples without realising I had done so,” says Shand Kydd about the city, which he first visited on a three-month gallery residency in 2000. Rising early and trawling the streets of the city on foot in the hope of catching “something magical,” the photographer has developed an exhaustive knowledge of Naples that’s plain to see in his images of the Siren City (so-called because the siren Parthenope was supposed to have washed ashore there after failing to seduce Ulysses). From young men preening on the beach to children clambering up a building in search of a lost football, the images are a series of affectionate vignettes. “It’s a strange place,” muses Shand Kydd, “but once you’ve got it under your skin you can’t get rid of it.” Siren City: Photographs of Naples by Johnnie Shand Kydd is on display at The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London, until September 12.
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