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The world in the osprey's eyes: Alberto Cherchi's photography


The small off-road vehicle enters the track that runs along the banks of the Mistras lagune. Reeds, willows, bushes and a shady tunnel of pines parade through the window. Then the passage opens into the body of water, lightly blurred by the mistral wind. The pink multitude of flamingos helps to underpin the illusion of immobility. The hide is interrupted by the passage of the osprey, which crosses the cold blue of January flying past the first and second roost.

With his right hand Alberto Cherchi starts the engine, engages the gear and chases him jerking through the dirt holes. With his left hand he holds the camera where the body is tied to the huge lens, a long camouflage cone that reaches up to the shoulder. The hawk chooses the third wood planted on the pond’s bottom. On the edge of the lowered window, Alberto lays down what is the transfiguration of a tripod, a camouflage cushion of vague triangular shape, on which the lens rests. The shots follow each other with a machine-gun rhythm as a seagull immediately arrives, slow in circles at the base of the roost, ready to collect what remains of the prey.

“Today is the second time he has eaten. Often the seagulls don't just wait, but make an explicit request with a chirp", explains Alberto. Shaking it in its claws the hawk makes the small sea bream shine. Firmly in balance on the pole, it brings its head alive to its beak. In each image a detail of the splendid predatory spectacle is magnified: the wings spread or contracted, the royal or funny gaze, a verse of accusation or victory, the feathers separated by the water of the dive that still send drops around during the rapid movements of the meal. “We were lucky - Alberto explains - yesterday I had to wait for four hours before meeting a specimen. Then, in the end, ten minutes of adrenaline and 1300 shots".

The interest in birds was born in Alberto's early adolescence, but it turned into passion only years later, with digital cameras and powerful telephoto lenses, now unmovable from his camera. Little space for the wide angle, mostly used to catch atmospheric phenomena. That of Alberto is a sublimated form of hunting, a pursuit with a gentle outcome. Being on the blind, getting accepted or jumping on a camper and waiting the right moment for two days in a shed. Trips are not that frequent, though, in his routine: "The Oristano region is crossed by water. Where there is water there is life, a life that constantly changes with the seasons ". Flamingos, cranes, waders, plovers, sandpipers and in the spring feast the rare partridges and the grumpy oystercatchers.

But hunting down the hunter is what seems to excite more Alberto, who’s in contact with the German ringers to help thicken with his pictures the story of the old traveler G22, a hawk that has crossed Europe for twenty years, linking Oristano to Saxony. The day is blessed, another hawk darts along the bank. Alberto engages the reverse gear and runs backwards through holes and bumps. This time the prey is a mullet, and the operation on the pole is more complicated. The mullet has been grabbed by the tail and the shots retrace the acrobatic operations necessary to bring the claws on the head. Alberto communicates with his star as if he were in the studio between lights and reflective panels. He directs her almost trying to stimulate his movements. He laughs for an unexpected jump. Even the naked eye now registers a ruby spot in the small oblong figure. The seagull arrives on time for the mite. “Some time ago I managed to portray one that had fished a huge mullet, it will have weighed at least 800 grams. To make him more affable, he slammed him on the 'fishing ban' sign hanging from the roost".

We move between the structures of the Sa Mardini fish pond, where the mistral blows directly and raises the water in small waves. The pond is a continuous swarm of wings that fly over the dark shadows of the mullet herds. Alberto manages to see the figure and dance of the hawk, suspended in observation in the nebula of the other birds. Then the dive, which the machine freezes in a puff of water, and in the emergence of the wings. It is not the shot that is still missing in Alberto’s archive, despite the endless hours spent waiting and hiding: the figure thrown vertically and the moment in which the claws catch the prey in the explosion of water. “I don't think my photos are particularly beautiful. I have no particular ambitions. I am not particularly interested in publishing in specialized magazines. I show pictures on social media, I'm happy if people like them, I learn when they are criticized. I have to know the subjects I portray, and this has led me to study a lot, to improve my knowledge in books. Time ceases to exist when I am out with the camera. I walk through the land I love, I know it more and more in depth, path after path, bush after bush”.

The last foray is still for Mistras again, where three hawks hover high among the calls and a long white cloud that gradually unravels. A specimen lands on a distant pole. A crow floats around him croaking, as pestiferous queen of the pond. “The hawk is a calm type, despite the appearances. It never reacts". In a small bend in the pond, a young flamingo moves limping. He has a problem with one leg. By now many know him, photographers, birdwatchers, the LIPU (Italian League for Bird Protection), with whom Alberto is constantly in contact. The young white flamingo always visits that little corner of the pond, as if he felt protected. For a few weeks Alberto has often encountered a hawk with a completely trapped leg and lines. And a kestrel in the past, tortured by leg necrosis. He immortalized all stages of the loss. Now the pirate-kestrel eats mice and lizards on a wooden bench.

“I am always available for national and international photographers who ask me for information on places and species. We would need some additional infrastructure like signs, observation huts, information panels that make clear the right behavior to be followed. We live in a magical land and it would be nice to be able to share its treasures. It's what I like most about photography, sharing, disseminating beauty”.