Every time I visit Giuliano, I find him in front of his house waiting for me. He has his photo camera ready. We all sit down in the kitchen, him, his mother and me, I ask him what he likes to photograph. A long list follows: cars, trucks, buildings, antennas, walls, clouds, pretty girls, all sorts of people. He insists: all sorts of people – young, old, men, women.
Giuliano spends most of his time in a residential center for persons with a handicap. He spends the weekends back home with his parents.
Giuliano holds on to his camera and takes pictures of me from time to time. Then he takes pictures through the kitchen window. Then he also brings his video camera and keeps both cameras in each hand. I cannot tell if he is recording me or just pretending to. I have turned from photographer into photo subject.
We go upstairs to his room and Giuliano shows me things that matter to him: a stereo system, a trumpet, a video camera. Oh yes, and pyjamas. He collects colorful PJs that are several sizes below his size. He can barely fit in some of them. He folds them carefully as we chat about everything and nothing.
We come back downstairs and the three of us sit again at the kitchen table. Giuliano intervenes from time to time in my discussion with his mother. He tells me that he loves big fish, especially big tuna. He takes out a series of printed photos of tuna swimming in colorful marine settings and spreads them out on the table. A few minutes later, as the discussion moves to another topic, he says that his mother is like a big tuna. And that he is like a little gray fish.
His mother shows me on her phone the messages he receives from him while he is at the residential center during the week. “How is it going, big fish?” » says one message. Giuliano also attaches a selfie with a big smile.
Giuliano learned to read and write largely at home with his mother. At school, he was told he would never make it. She developed her own teaching method, training herself and becoming the teacher and guide Giuliano needed. They say it takes a village to raise a child. This rings even more true in the case of Giuliano, who found in the small cul-de-sac where his parents’ house is located the kind of community spirit that helped him learn and grow. The small community accepts him, protects him and plays the role of mediator when new people arrive.
Giuliano is well known and liked by the neighbors. He sometimes visits them for a chat or accompanies them through the neighborhood. As we go out for a walk in the park nearby, G. stops to chat with an old lady walking her dog. Then he stops another woman to make small talk. And another one. Then the garbage collectors. Everybody seems to have become a neighbor.
Among these neighbors, there was a couple in their eighties. Giuliano visited them every New Year’s Eve to wish them a Happy New Year. They grew closer after the old man stood up for Giuliano in front of people who didn’t know him and were embarrassed by his behavior. Then the old lady died. Giuliani continued to visit the old man who now lived alone. He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and his condition was deteriorating. On his own initiative, Giuliano began doing memory exercises with him. He went there and asked the old man to give him the names of all the neighbors. At first it was difficult and he only remembered one name out of four. Then two out of four. Then three. One day, Giuliano seemed very happy in front of his mother, saying that Mr. Delvaux remembered four names out of four.
During our walks together, Giuliano approaches strangers and asks them to take a photo with him. He prefers families and, if he obtains their agreement, he has very precise instructions on the composition of the photo. He insists that the people to his right and left put their hands on his shoulders and the tips of their feet touch his heels. He tells me that it gives him a feeling of friendship and warmth. He wants to live, he wants to feel this ephemeral intimacy during the moment of taking a photo.