Initially this project was to be straightforward; I’d travel from Rome to Sicily, to photograph buildings stranded in Mt. Etna’s pyroclastic flows, slowly decaying in a frozen sea of lava. I’d photograph the deserted countryside of Basilicata’s badlands, the eroding calanchi and the towns abandoned as the earth underneath them slipped away. I’d photograph the Mafia heartland of Sicily, where towns destroyed by an earthquake had been abandoned and rebuilt nearby as ill-conceived utopias, left incomplete as public works money was siphoned off. The locals call such projects “cathedrals in the desert,” and the phenomenon is widespread in Southern Italy.
However, the images I found most interesting generally avoid describing the phenomena outright, tending instead towards the interstitial moments, the shots made in an instant, the unscripted encounters that were entirely, eerily consistent with the state of the buildings, as if this condition had permeated every facet of the landscape.
As a result, many of the buildings themselves have been edited out of the final work, and tumult and ruin all remain as intimations at the periphery. I’ve left out the cat hit by a car, still alive and hungry by the roadside, its tongue falling through its jaw with no hope of healing, a sibling refusing to leave its side. I fed them both, knowing there was nothing more I could do. I’ve left out the images I was directed to take by the shepherd who remains as the last resident of Craco, who didn’t have a camera, but had imagined having one, and instructed me to take the photographs he could not. He, like many of the people I encountered, preferred to exist outside the frame, and I respected their wishes. Those who have been photographed exist in the transient anonymity of the middle ground, of backlight.
People are strays here, too.