‘A different world, not a worse one’

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Giovanni Cocco's photo series "Monia" focuses on his disabled sister

The project, he said, made him look at his sister in a new light

CNN  — 

It was Ansel Adams who said, “A photograph is usually looked at, seldom looked into.”

Giovanni Cocco’s photo series “Monia” is both. Cocco’s sister suffered a traumatic brain injury at birth, and through his photos, he tries to take viewers on a journey into Monia’s mind.

“I want my photos to bring Monia (to) all the places where she cannot go,” Cocco said via email. “And I also would like my photography to (place) viewers in Monia’s life for a moment.”

In this sense, viewers are not simply looking at Monia from a distance. They are intimately looking into her world and inviting her into their own. They are ready to indulge in some cake, sitting with her as she blows out a candle. They are swimming with her in a pool, their bodies gliding along the water. They are witnessing and wondering what she is thinking and feeling.

Monia is seen both as a whole figure, standing in the snow, and in fragments, her arm and finger pointing upward, illuminated in the darkness.

Photographer Giovanni Cocco

“I used to share my bedroom with Monia for many years. She often woke up in the middle of the night, gesticulating, pointing up with her fingers, as she meant to say something,” Cocco said, referring to photo No. 2 in the gallery above. “I’ve always been looking at her since I was a kid, trying to catch what she does.”

Cocco presents Monia in an all-encompassing light, showing his sister within her defined visual space while also seeking to understand the unseeable – her inner thoughts.

“I try to understand what her way of looking at reality is. I try to capture what she captures,” Cocco said. “The worlds I see around Monia would not exist without her. They recount her personality. That is why I try to depict the visual space that surrounds her, even through an obscured, unclear view.”

Monia may be obscured in photo No. 10, contained and camouflaged within a tunnel. And there is an unclear view of her in photo No. 11, as she peers from behind a window. However, these obscured and unclear views of Monia ultimately force viewers to truly look beyond the surface of Cocco’s images, to look into the depths of every detail. It becomes clear that his photo series is not a commentary on those living with disabilities, that his sister is not defined by her disability.

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    Cocco says that although Monia’s life may appear solitary and confined, even quiet or inactive, it is by no means empty. It is filled with and fulfilled by habits, gestures and moments.

    Photographing Monia “made me understand that disability is an ambiguous concept. I thought I knew my sister, but this was not true,” Cocco said. “The more I spent time with my sister, the more I felt that being disabled means living in a different world than ours – and not a worse one. I finally understood that Monia is a happy and peaceful woman.”

    Up until now, Cocco’s mother has taken care of his sister for 46 years, since the day she was born.

    “One day, I will take care of her,” Cocco said, “and she will become part of my everyday life. (Photographing) is the first step for one to enter the life of the other, with both the joy and the difficulty of the encounter. The hardest challenge is to face my own fears, confronting myself with a story which involves me in an emotional way.”

    More than just a journey into Monia’s mind, Cocco’s photo series is a personal exploration into childhood.

    “I enjoyed the whole process,” Cocco said. “It turned out like a game – taking us back to our childhood together, when age and innocence cut off all the distances making the two of us connected in one thing. This work is about telling a love story.”

    Giovanni Cocco is an Italian photographer. You can follow him on Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram.