Jasmine Bruno – To Catch a Thief
WORDS BY HANNAH GEDDES
A man with short grey hair wearing an unzipped hoody takes a drag on his cigarette. He is staring directly into the camera and at us. Jasmine Bruno, who is graduating from the photography BA degree at UWE, met him at the Turin train station last November. He was standing by the ticket machine asking commuters for spare change. Bruno approached him:
“Excuse me, could you help me use the ticket machine?” I asked.
There was nobody around at that point, just me and him.
“Is your name Antonio?”
“Nice to meet you, I am Jasmine.’’
“Are you Antonio Bruno?”.
“Are you Jasmine – as in my daughter?”
The last time she had seen her father was eight years ago when she visited him in prison. And before that, she hadn’t seen him since she was three. Despite having gone to Italy to find him, she didn’t recognise him at first. She explained, “the drugs had ruined his face.” Adding that, “a tremendous loss of weight had played a huge impact on his body.” But it was his voice that drew her towards him. Bruno had always wanted to find him but admitted that she “needed a pretext to explain the need to find [her] father, [and] a camera was the greatest tool to do so.” The project is the “most intimate photographic series” she has produced and one that was difficult to share publicly. The editing process became an important part of the project for Bruno, a way for her to take back some control, carefully selecting the images she wanted people to see.
“I had only an hour with my father, it took a lot of convincing to put him in front of the lens. He felt extremely vulnerable when I started taking photographs. I believe that our encounter lasted only a short amount of time because of that.”
When Bruno found him she, in a rare act for a photographer, gave over her camera (and control) and asked him to take a photograph of her. In this portrait, she is holding her right arm with her left hand – as if she’s giving herself support – and looking at the man who she hadn’t seen in years. Although this project is about self-discovery, this is the only time we see Bruno. The camera became a means of emotional support for her. She describes how it helped her make sense of what she was discovering, “when I couldn’t find my father, I would channel my emotions of panic and despair through the lens. Documenting my search was almost therapeutic, it supported me through this roller-coaster of emotions I was experiencing.”
This project is her self-discovery rather than his story and her mother is in several portraits too. These intimate portraits of her parents are sequenced with images she made while looking for her dad. A sculptural image shows a chair propped up against a door in one. In another, a tree is interrupting an industrial landscape. These images document the hopeless moments of her journey, the time spent wondering the streets trying to find her father. Bruno brings her mother and father together in this project, although they did not meet personally.
She also researched her father’s past and discovered that in 1971, her grandfather shot her grandmother in the head while she was eight months pregnant. Both the mother and baby died. Femicide (the killing of a woman because of her gender) is an ongoing issue in Italy. In 2017, over one hundred women were murdered and women who report violence often struggle to be believed by the authorities and even their own family.
At first Bruno was, “ashamed to be the daughter of a thief and the granddaughter of a murderer and victim of femicide,” but her project raises awareness of ongoing gender-based violence that exists in Italy and around the world. The process of sharing her work and discussing the project, first with close friends, tutors and peers and then to a wider audience, allowed her to feel less ashamed and helped her to process her family’s past.
Bruno hasn’t kept in touch with her father or shown him the work. “The hour we had together was so emotionally draining and intense that I decided it was best for me not to see him again.” Photography is a powerful tool, it captures and holds memories, allowing us to look back and remember our past. But it also allows us to make new memories. To Catch A Thief was Bruno’s chance to make new ones and in doing so she “created [her] very first family album.”