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Dream of the Rifle and Shape of the Heart

Antonio Denti | Italy

The tongue of lava on which the house where I was born is built. And the majestic Mediterranean sea.

When the war in Ukraine broke, last February, as an international news cameraman, I started to get ready to go. But then, in the same week, Ina - my 98 years old grandmother - died. So, rather than traveling to Poland and cross into Ukraine I drove to the house where I was born |(and which I left when I was 15 years old) in Sicily. The two unrelated events - the war and my grandmother's death - blended inside me in an odd way. So much so, that in those days I dreamt, or maybe just visualized, myself holding a rifle. As I travelled to my homeland with my wife and my 8-year old son  I looked at everything with different eyes. I could not help thinking that if I ever will have to fight - as people exactly like me are having to do now - it would be there. For this house built on lava that shaped my heart. For this dark and sensual city. For these people I love. 

''Into this house we are born,

Into this world we are thrown''

The Doors. Riders on the Storm.


"Dream of the Rifle and Shape of the Heart''  is the photographic account of an unexpected journey I did back to the house where I was born and which I left at the age of fifteen. This journey happened in the wake of two apparently unrelated events which followed each other by less than a week: the death of my grandmother, Ina, at the age of 98 and Russia's invasion of Ukraine with the subsequent return of the spectre of war in Europe.

I have been a visual journalist for over 20 years and have covered for a major international news agency most ''big stories'' of our times - from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the Asian Tsunami of 2004, from the death of Pope John Paul II to the beginnings of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, from the great migration crisis in the Mediterranean sea to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But, for a series of personal reasons, when the war in Ukraine started I did not go. A totally different journey awaited. I got in a car with my wife and my 8-year old son and drove back to the island and to the house where I was born.

The death of Ina, my grandmother, and the start of the war  - so close in time - combined and blended in mysterious ways. In the days immediately following that fateful week I dreamt - or maybe just visualized - myself holding a rifle.

I do not know if this is right. I do not know if it is wrong. But I did. Born in Western Europe at a time and in a place where perpetual peace was believed to be an achieved conquest, I had never really thought of war as real a possibility.

And, yet, back in the house where I was born, with my 8-year old son Martino, knowing that the house was soon going to be demolished and the new owners will build an apartment block there, I could not help thinking of life's upheavals and of what humans do in them. I could not help thinking of people who suddenly loose everything. Things they thought would last for ever.

I watched my grandmother lying in her coffin as if she was sleeping, I saw my father with tears in his eyes for the first time in my life, as I saw my son watching the lush garden from the same dark room as I did so many times so long before and from which I had dreamt the vast world beyond these walls. I looked at the city, at the sea, at the volcano behind the house with different eyes.

And I thought of the rifle again. The rifle I pray never to have to hold. But which I see - elsewhere in the world - people not at all different from me are holding... if I would ever have to fight, kill and be killed like they do, I thought, then it would be here. It would be for this land, sea, people and house where I was born and that shaped my heart.

I realized - as I looked at the pictures that I took in these days and that make up this body of work - that I had taken them as if I was on an assignment. I cannot compare - obviously - my journey to having travelled to Ukraine but for me - who had always covered the life of others - it was a bit like turning the camera on myself and try to capture the universal essence of my human experience in what was happening to me. In death,  birth, home, war, loss and revolt...in all the deep things in life - I find - we can try to capture a glimpse of our shared, universal humanity.  

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