Giorgia Tobiolo first noticed her next-door neighbor Peter as he was cutting grass in his London backyard last summer. Her cat loves his immaculate garden and often seeks it out as a destination for escape.
“I was intrigued by the fact that he appeared to be a typical Englishman living in an area populated mainly by foreign people,” said Tobiolo, an Italian photographer living in the British capital.
When Tobiolo, a master’s student at the University of Westminster, was asked during her first semester to take portraits of people with different backgrounds, she immediately knew Peter, 74, would make an ideal subject.
“When I follow my intuition, usually it leads me to a successful outcome,” she said. “One day I knocked on Peter’s door and asked him if I could take some portraits for my university semester, and everything started.”
Tobiolo’s portrait assignment gradually transformed into a four-month project, “Re-Pete,” as she learned more about Peter’s solitary, methodical life. Peter, who has lived in his house since 1966, follows the same routine and frequents the same places every day, and Tobiolo began photographing him in these familiar environments to explore his world.
“He brought my attention to the fact that in big cities, people don’t always know their neighbors. People sometimes forget the sense of community most of all in the heart of such a large, anonymous city,” she said. “I felt there was something very important in knowing and understanding the life of someone that lives two meters from you.”
Tobiolo’s photographs reveal the beauty in ritual and the simple comfort it gives Peter. Almost every image in her project contains at least a pop of blue, Peter’s favorite color. He wears blue, his house is blue and the places he visits usually are blue.
Peter lives alone. He retired in 2000 and has remained single all his life.
“Peter’s single status is just his own choice and something he would not wish to discuss,” Tobiolo said. She notes, however, “There is no indecision in his eyes or in his choices.”
One photo in the series features Peter’s bathroom and focuses on a cord hanging against a bare blue wall just above the tub. Tobiolo calls it a symbol of safety.
“Peter leads a solitary life, but an imaginary safety rope seems to hold him safe and secure,” she said.
While spending time with Peter in his home, Tobiolo was also struck by a white cabinet with old framed photographs, sitting in front of a pale orange wall. All together, the color of the wall, the cabinet and the photographs of family members who have passed away made a strong impression on Tobiolo. She asked Peter to pose in front of those photos to give life to the image she had in her mind.
“These photographs bring back very pleasant memories to Peter,” Tobiolo said. “You can find the closest people of Peter's life in his family. That's why I decided to underline this fact, asking him to look to them.”
Between school and work, Tobiolo was unable to photograph Peter every day. Yet she felt the slow progress was beneficial to understanding Peter and his way of life.
“For me, things can change from day to day. I am always on the run dashing from one place to another, following my dream in this crazy and magical city,” she said. “People usually cannot bear to have every week the same for their life.
“But for someone else, the same is a salvation. It is a must. It is perfection.”
- Allison Love, CNN