UPDATE (23.07.08 - 5pm): We contacted the Naples journalist who took the photos. He thinks that the affair has been blown out of proportion. Read his account further down the page.

Two girls of Roma origin drowned at a beach in Naples on Saturday. Photos of their dead bodies, lying a few metres from indifferent sunbathers, revive the controversy over Italian attitudes towards the minority gypsy community.

Midday Saturday and the two cousins, 16-year-old Cristina and 14-year-old Violetta, were selling trinkets on the beach. At 2pm they decided go into the water. But neither knew how to swim and conditions were rough. The pair were swept under by a strong current, and although their cousin and younger sister escaped and ran for help, it arrived too late.

As the photos show, the bodies of the girls were left lying under the sun while holidaymakers continued to relax on the beach, apparently unmoved. Covered by towels, the feet of the girls remained exposed for hours until the police returned to pick up the bodies. The tragedy comes at a sensitive time for the Italian Roma; after Silvio Berlusconi announced plans to fingerprint the entire community.

(thanks to our Observer Alberto Celani for his great help on this post) 

"No need for such a fuss"

Alessandro is a photographer from Naples.

It was my newspaper who called me to go to the beach where the girls drowned. I arrived an hour before their bodies were removed. I took the photos with a wide angle lens, about eight to ten metres from the corpses. I was inspired by tsunami photos I'd seen, where tourists are swimming a few metres away from dead bodies.

There was no need for such a fuss over this. There were two groups on the beach. Indeed there were people who didn't care. But there were also those, mostly parents, who were the ones who called for help, and they stayed near to the girls until they were taken away. I took the photo on a rare moment when they moved away.

I do not think this affair had anything to do with where the girls were from. People did try to help them, just as much as they would have helped a pair of Italian girls."

The photo that broke the scandal

© Alessandro/ Fotogramma

"It’s easier to pretend you didn’t see anything than to make a statement"

Ciro Barbato is a student in Naples.

People from Naples are usually very caring, so this comes as a surprise. It could be seen as a warning that times are changing. But also, although I've never been to that beach, I know that the people in that area are not rich. The girls came from Secondigliano, a very poor village where the local mafia, the Camorra, is very powerful. And you do find anti-gypsy feelings in poor areas. People are scared that they'll take the little that they have. Where I am, well people are wary of everyone, especially the Roma. There are a lot of thieves amongst them. Also, it's also easier to pretend you didn't see anything than to make a statement. You don't know if the girls would have been saved if they were Italian."