This piece is a lament. In 2004 I got engaged to an Italian woman, Desire (pronounced like the verb/noun). I surrendered my place in South Central Los Angeles to move to Rome and live with her and her two boys in a 600 year-old apartment overlooking the Pantheon.
Desire was of a prominent family, living in a world filled with social rules defined by Rome’s thousands of years of tradition and custom. I come from Russia, raised in America. The thrill of spontaneous sex, unworried freeness, and passion of our affair soon gave way and illuminated the cultural differences between us. Our engagement slowly collapsed. I found myself in a foreign country feeling bereft and futile. And heartbroken. You know this strange condition? You wake up at night, open your eyes on the darkness, and suddenly you feel you’re lost, and you start groping around as fast as you can, looking for something familiar and solid, the wall, the lamp, chair. I roamed the city streets of the Seven Hills.
I was reading Jacques Lacan at the time, a French psychoanalyst who died in 1981. His psychoanalytical theory was an expansion on Freud and the linguist Saussure, explaining that ‘desire’ necessarily lacks something, i.e. it is a ‘desire’ of lack. Lacan’s notion of ‘desire’ is, at its heart, a ‘desire’ for wholeness—a “hole in the self” that the subject attempts to close through an endless, metonymic chain of
supplements: the perfect car, the perfect boyfriend, a tenure track job, etc. But as soon as one’s supplement is acquired, desire moves onto something else. ‘Desire’ is a (representational) itch that can never truly be scratched.
I began shooting the facades of the city streets with a 35mm camera, twisting and angling the camera to re-urbanize Rome and depict the hole it bore inside me. I used the city as a large-scale glance of a sky—a hole—contoured by the walls of an ancient city, an obsession, a medieval puzzle, a daydream, a delusion, a search for belonging, nostalgia, a projection of hope for something otherworldly. I shot 6 rolls of film (36 exposures per roll). Between each photograph are 1-5 kilometers, and for each image I had to wait for the right time of day to get the necessary exposure. Each roll was employed with no editing, in true succession, so they were all memorized. No Photoshop. The piece took 3 months to complete, after which I moved back to Los Angeles.