London based photographer Sam Gregg puts people at the heart of his pictures. His portraits present men with striking features and expressive eyes. In his series See Naples and Die, he explores the Italian capital of crime and gets to know its inhabitants.

Portrait is a true obsession, to Sam Gregg. Since his early childhood, he has gazed at the world, observing people closely. As he grew up, this fascination became more and more influential, pushing him to get to know his future models. “I feel a connection with marginalised people”, Sam tells us. “Individuals living on the fringes of society. I’ve always felt very at ease photographing them”. Getting to know them enabled the photographer to draw a vibrant portrait of the places they live in.

See Naples and Die is composed of pictures from The Spanish Quarter and Rione Sanità. Two frightening, yet beautiful neighbourhoods. “At the core, my projects always have strong socio-political values”, Sam explains. “Naples’s reputation is stained. The country topped the European crime index ratings of 2017”. Yet, this alarming data did not discourage the photographer, who focused on beautifying the city and its population. In his images, the model’s humanity is highlighted, not the surrounding fear linked to the city.

A dark kind of beauty

Sam’s portraits may be moving, but a certain darkness transcends them. In Neapolitan culture, death is ever-present. “Crimes of passion are famous there”, Sam says. “Death notices are plastered on walls like adverts, memorial masses are often performed on the anniversary of a family member’s death… and then there is the famous church of death”. Past, superstitions and black magic feed Naples’s criminal history. The afterlife lingers over the city, thus creating a fantastic atmosphere. An inspiring romanticism, that thrills Sam. His portraits show another side of the city. The models’ sad expressions and deep wrinkles tell another story, realistic and complex. They reflect a raw, vulnerable universe. “We live in a world where social media promotes an inconsistent, sugar-coated version of reality that I believe is unhealthy. Naples’s darkness is liberating and touching”, the photographer concludes.

© Sam Gregg