“It’s just life as it is, with no filters or censorship.”
Robbie McIntosh lives in Napoli and shoots some of the city’s most colourful characters, predominantly a deep brown. With a surname like McIntosh, you’d suspect Robbie isn’t of Italian heritage, and if so, you’d be right.
“It wasn’t really my choice how I ended up here. My parents brought me here when I was a young kid.”
Robbie describes Naples as a place where things happen at a rate of knots. The words he uses are “fast” and “random”. He talks of slippery stoned streets, bottlenecked passageways, screaming vendors and an incessant hustle and bustle. Wisely, Robbie captures the majority of his subjects at the seaside, away from all the madness. In nothing but swimsuits, the locals suck down tobacco, shuck oysters and nibble Cambrian treats while they glaze in a multitude of vitamin D.
Robbie has a talent for capturing these folks in their most relaxed states. Gazing at the images, I struggle to imagine him positioned in the scene, a lens pointed squarely in their faces.
There’s something comforting and communal about the same faces bobbing up. I imagine a tight-knit crew of leathery men and women meeting in the same spot every day to watch their toned and younger counterparts dive into the crystal waters.
“People are creatures of habit, it’s just like watching people getting on and off the bus. At each spot, you have a kind of a full-time cast, with a number of characters going in and out of the scene.”
Although Robbie sees these regulars, regularly – he is cautious not to get too chummy. “Of course, I’m close with them but I also believe every good photographer should never be too involved. Being a friendly, curious dancing ghost is much better.”
I can’t put my finger on why, but I feel the urge to strike up a conversation with the people he’s caught on camera. I don’t speak a lick of Italian but for some reason with Robbie’s shots, I feel that wouldn’t really matter.
On occasion, Robbie dips away from the idyllic seaside and into the streets–snapping passionate SSC Napoli diehards, astounded newlyweds and listless locals. There is a sonic and physical force to Robbie’s photographs. In one shot, two old codgers shuck oysters and I swear I can hear the lapping of waves and screams of kids. In another, an elderly sun-ravaged husband leans lovingly into his wife. Look closely, and you can practically see her smile grow. Even though Robbie tries his best not to get too cozy with his subjects, it’s hard to think otherwise, as they all seem so at ease in his presence.
Not long ago, Robbie took pictures of a man in his seventies who was a Gran Turismo pilot turned semi-retired mechanic.
“He told me he owns an unbelievable amount of old rusty Alfa Romeos, hidden somewhere in the woods, covered by leaves. He told me to come and visit, so of course I did.”
Robbie feels it’s random pangs of empathy that lead him to these connections. He mentions that he often has strong feelings towards certain strangers but can never quite put his finger on why…? There’s a beauty in that – an intangible connection to someone you’ve never seen before.
Experimenting with a range of cameras along with black/white and colour film, Robbie shoots pictures that plant you in the up close and personal.
“If we’re talking small format I use my Leica M system. For medium format, I use a Hasselblad 500 C/m and Mamiya RB67 Pro. I love using wide angles, no matter what.”
There’s also a timeless element to these pictures, with many appearing like they were taken in a different era. With only the dazzling blue sea or rocky outcrops of Naples in the background, it could be 1963 or 2023.
Like a lot of photographers, the exercise is an escape from the regularity of life. Robbie speaks about the boredom he bears in his day-to-day job as an engineer and how beautiful it is to dampen that feeling with photography.
“When people say, I knew this photo was yours just by looking at it, it brings me such joy.”
As the shooter accidentally alludes to, his shots have an intangible signature. And, it’s this that makes them so alluring.
Although not born and bred, you can tell Robbie has a deep love for his hometown. Where lots of other photographers spend thousands of dollars flying around the globe to capture the most aesthetically pleasing spots, Robbie digs in at home with true and powerful results.
Explore Robbie’s Napoli in more depth via the link below.