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Albertina D’Urso

Abruzzo Earthquake Displaced

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On April 6, 2009 at 3:32 am, a massive earthquake rated 5.8 on the Richter Scale occurred in the region of Abruzzo, Central Italy, leaving 307 dead and about 70,000  homeless. The epicenter was near L’Aquila, the capital, which together with surrounding villages suffered the most damage.

This essay takes us way past the news event and into what happens after. Most of the displaced are now surviving for more than 6 months in tent camps, containers and train berths.



Italian photographer Albertina d’Urso (Milan, 1976) studied at the ICP (International Center of Photography), at TPW (Toscana Photographic Workshops) and at the Agency VII. She is focused mainly in social and humanitarian reportage. Her dedication to this kind of issues begun in 2004 when she went to Mumbai to help a charity dealing with long distance adoptions: her work gave life to a book, Bombayslum, published by Skira, and an exhibition at Libreria degli Atellani in Milan and deeply changed her life and her career.

In 2006 she participated to the “Kabul mission of the municipality of Milan”, a work aimed at showing the consequences of the war in Afghanistan and the efforts of the mission ISAF 8 and the Italian NGOs to restore the situation, culminated with the “Milano-Kabul no stop” exhibition in the Arcade Vittorio Emanuele and with two books: Respiro del Mondo 5 Afghanistan, Kabul, and Km 5072, Milano-Kabul no stop. In 2007 she was selected for “Focus on Monferrato Masterclass” a project that consist in 12 photographers, guided by Stanley Greene and Kadir van Lohuizen, to document different sides of life in Piedmont and won the “Canon Young Photographers Award” with her project “Welcome to Compton”, a reportage about gangs and violence in Los Angeles. In 2008 Albertina exhibited “Spirit of Shekhawati”, a work about this small region of India forgotten by the economic boom. In the same year she was featured in “Young Blood”, the annual contest of Italian talents who have received international prizes in the creative and research fields and won an award at the festival “Orvieto Fotografia”.

She also received various recognitions at the IPA (International Photography Awards) in 2005, 2006 and 2008; the PX3  (Prix de la Photographie Paris) in 2006, 2008 and 2009, and was among the nominees for the New York Photo Awards 2009, contributed to collectives books as CHILDREN, moments of humanity (2006) and the series of books Asia Unique (2008). She also partecipated in several collectives exhibition including: “13×17padiglioneitalia” (travelling all around Italy since 2005),”Scatti per Bene” (Sothebys, Milan, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008), “Convivio” (FieraMilanocity, Milan, 2008), “Male di Miele” (Wannabe Gallery, Milan, 2008).


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Albertina D’Urso


Editor’s note:

Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

19 thoughts on “albertina d’urso – abruzzo earthquake displaced”

  1. O.K. You’ve shown us the snapshots. Now what? A book? There sure seem to be a lot of “socially concerned photographers” publishing books these days. Are you making a difference?

  2. JIM:

    I have to say you have left me speechless. If you are going to make a comment under a photographer’s work here you can at least offer some explanation of your opinion whether it is good or bad. Christ that was the one of the most callous and useless comments I have heard come from you.

    I have just decided that I will no longer read your comments here. I am sure others already have.

    As far as the essay goes, for me there is something missing and I cannot put my finger on it. This is one of those subject matters that should tug at my feelings and I just am not connecting with the people in the photos.

    I wanted to take some time and think about it, looking again later before commenting, but Jim forced me to respond. I will look again later and think and make some comments under Dialogue.

    As far as Jim’s useless comment, I think it should just be deleted. Unbelievable… even for Jim.

  3. I like this essay. And as a humanitarian essay, it doesn’t grate on my nerves as a work that assumes a heroic pretense to change anything. It strikes me as a work that only aims to “show” and document, which is all i want from such work. I wonder if what Pete is missing is suffering. (It may well not be the case). I see very little suffering here and that must be because these people are from a country where the people are well-looked after in times of disaster. It rather goes to underline what happened after Katrina, although there could be other explanations for this discrepancy which as someone so far away is hard for me to appreciate. Here I see people making the best of a bad situation and I think it has to have started with the fact that, whatever these people have lost, they are being well-cared for by their country. It makes a pleasant change to see something positive in the face of hardship. I wish things always worked out so well. I like the images, though again, I’d prefer to see this work in colour.

    I’d like to see the Shekawati work you mention – yours and others. As someone acutely interested in India, I am always interested in pictures from there. It’s funny that you say that Shekwati is forgotten by the economic boom. Most of india is side-stepped by the economic boom but there will be a trickle down effect, slowly slowly.

    It is interesting to read your biography. I wonder what your philosophy is since you’ve done so many projects.

  4. Agreed!!… Seriously Jim have some respect! I generally ignore your ignorant comments, but this is just down right rude and totally unnecessary. Embarrassing.

    Albertina. I have enjoyed your work in the past, but I personally don’t feel that this is up to the same caliber. Pete mentioned he felt it difficult to connect the people in your essay, I have to agree. There are some nice single images, but i feel there is a lot more that could be done with this work (isn’t there always!!). The whole piece feels very passive to me… Like it needs a little more emotion or some impact to push it forward a bit. I feel like you are still observing rather than connecting with them, so in turn I feel rather distant. Are you continuing with this work at all? Of course more time is all you need!! Get in there! You have the rest of the tools.

    Also, You have a good eye for color, maybe I am missing that a little too in this piece. Is there a reason you elected to go black and white?

    Favorite frames: 2, 13, 17.

  5. “Around 40,000 people who were made homeless by the earthquake found accommodation in tented camps and a further 10,000 were housed in hotels on the coast. Others sought shelter with friends and relatives throughout Italy. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi caused a controversy when he said, in an interview to the German station n-tv, that the homeless victims should consider themselves to be on a “camping weekend” – “They have everything they need, they have medical care, hot food… Of course, their current lodgings are a bit temporary. But they should see it like a weekend of camping.” To clarify his thought, he also told the people in a homeless camp: “Head to the beach. It’s Easter. Take a break. We’re paying for it, you’ll be well looked after.”

  6. Like Andrea, I feel that this is an informative essay. It doesn’t really resonate with me on an emotional level, but I think that’s OK. I do feel that stories like this this need to be told – so often, we hear of tragedy in one locale, then the news is off to report on the next disaster with no follow-up as to how lives have been changed by a tragedy in the long-term.

    Someone here on Burn posted a link to a story from Outside Magazine on Antonin Kratochvil, that this essay immediately brought to my mind ( http://outside.away.com/outside/culture/200909/antonin-kratochvil-1.html ). Page 3 on the article addresses Kratochvil’s visit to a Croatian refugee camp in 1993: “Kratochvil’s pictures of lounging refugees accessed the emotional reality of the camp: boredom, drudgery, and despair, which he intuitively recognized.” That’s the impression that I get from Albertina’s photographs: people who are trying to carry on, but have their lives on hold; watching and waiting, waiting…

  7. earthquakes
    life continues
    after tragedy…
    I liked seeing how they go about living their lives…
    there is still laughter,
    diapers still need to be changed…
    kids still play…..
    a nice balance…


  8. Some of the pictures are intim, some of the pictures make me think – hey, that’s like in a camping – but then I have to think again. Wow, these people have nothing else like the things we can see here. Then I feel the partly depression coming together with the camp life. and this is what I think makes a good documentary: That not only the pictures but also the emotions are transferred to the viewer.

    you have achieved this with me.

  9. I think that this essay has no depth.
    It seems to have been shot in a day or two. The obsessive use of wide angle lens does not help either, and makes this essay even more repetitive.
    I visited your website where I found, along some other nice work, the only photo (the number 4 of the essay not included here) which really tells a story. The photo I refer to shows two grown up men in bed inside a tend, one is lighting up a cigarette while doing something on his laptop, the other one is in a unsure moment, the inside of the tend shows the frailty of their condition while they, being on their 30s in two separate beds, look awkward enough for this to be a very difficult situation they have to cop with.
    I wonder why you didn’t include this photo?!
    The story has great potentials but here, unless you desire to work more on it, I see a very superficial and bland statement.
    Jim, of whom comments I usually dislike in terms of them being mostly destructive, has rightly hinted that you could have showed us much much much more, and here I agree with him.
    I would suggest to go back to L’Aquila as you, only you, and not trying to emulate Eugene Richards,as this will not bring you anywhere.
    Sorry for the harsh comment, but I have followed what has happened there and I know that you can do much better.

  10. Jim, thank you for reminding me what a moron our prime minister is.

    The quietness doesn’t show only that the country cares for its people, it shows how much they care for themselves, which is the first and most important step in reconstruction, imo.

  11. Hello Albertina!

    First, congratulations on being published on Burn! Second, to all who commented, thank you as well. The comments helped me get an idea of how the ¨public¨ reacted to Albertina´s point of view and also to better appreciate the challenge faced and accepted by Albertina in these unique shooting conditions.

    Last year we had a very bad earthquake here in Costa Rica. It did terrible damage to a beautiful agricultural area creating landslides and fissures, collapsing homes, roads, dairy production facilities, tourist attractions and just generally wrecking havoc, as well as considerable loss of life. I can tell you the CR government was economically unable to re-create the living standards for the newly homeless that Italy was able to do. So this also gives me a personal contrasting point of contrast to view this essay from.

    I think it’s very difficult to make a social comment about disaster when the ¨victims¨ are lounging around on cots, tots are playing around in little pools and going to school in makeshift classrooms that have cabinets and resources, playing music with friends, etc. etc. If we look at the people we think, ´well, hell, they aren´t suffering! They should be wasted, ragged and depressed¨. I think it may also be difficult for some people to feel anything about a person in a photo who is not portraying strong emotion both through their facial expression and also their body language because we are not all equally empathetic. For example, a huge smile accompanied by exuberant an hand gesture, a downward glance along with slumped shoulders, etc. etc. these are strong indicators of internal emotion. What are we supposed to read from fat, happy people playing guitar and smiling at each other? Well, we have to try harder, dig deeper, look more at the clues we are given.

    What i took away from this was loss, ennui and claustrophobia and, in Spanish, ¨aguantar¨ (tolerating). The scale of everything was tiny. The space between beds and windows, people and tent walls, tents resting on parking lot pavement, people sharing sleeping space, personal belongings stacked on small plastic tables, the space between the tops of heads and tent roofs, outdoor kitchens (with the beloved family expresso pot), people trying to conduct normal lives in reduced, miniature spaces, yes, camping…except that there was no home to go back to when the weekend was over, there was only an uncertain tomorrow in yet different surroundings, for better, for worse, for who the hell knows? Likewise, people that were accustomed to personal space had lost that entirely. Sharing became the mode of living, sharing with people they might not like, sharing with people whose habits perhaps were offensive, sharing bathroom and kitchen facilities and recreational spaces. I am not sure i would not freak out in this situation. Yet these people were making beds, changing babies, talking on cell phones, reading, sharing, enjoying. This is a wonderful testament to the ability to adapt, to look forward, to optimisim and acceptance, to fortitude, to joie de vivre, to community, to family and last but not least, to the successful efforts of a resourceful country to provide for its people in times of catastrophe. Yet even though Albertina does a great job capturing ¨life as normal in abnormal circumstances¨ there is stress in the faces, especially #3,5,9,13 showing us that perhaps there is a great deal of personal difficulty below the surface.

    Overall, if life in the camp was as Albertina is portraying it, then i believe she did an exceptional job. She was fair. She did not prejudice the story to make us feel more or less than we would have felt had we been there ourselves. I admire her restraint for surely she could have brought us a different story had she tried hard enough, stayed long enough. A story that would have made us weep and wring our hands. But would it have been an honest portrayal? I am trusting Albertina on this. I´d say no.


  12. hi albertina…

    two things

    1. i really love your attitude here. a routine life those people… they are ok but and getting used, but sense of loss and temporary conditions are there as well… a very insightful feeling, without extra photogenic dramas so to speak… i think in terms of Content, this is very good journalism.
    2. i dont like the “look”, the photographic/aesthetic attitude… difficult to explain, i will try…
    i dont mean pretty pics, or the photogenic drama of disaster etc… i mean the b/w is a bit faint, and why b/w? the frame/compositions are awkward, with very wide angle perspectives that come out disturbing here, and with titling – those simply Disturb the feel and the good selection of the content. it feels a bit like u wanted to make a little movie of it, but just made some common Plays of photography …

  13. Albertina,

    I was very pleased to see you published on BURN as I so clealy remembered the essay that you had done in India during a workshop with David/TPW which was published during the “Road trips” days. Among many of the students shown at the time, your pictures were standing out in my view so it is great to see what you have been up to in the mean time and, simply looking at the impressive list of awards you have received in the mean time, your work is clearly getting noticed so my sincere ongratulations…

    Regarding this particular essay, like some have expressed already, I have some mixed feelings. First, on the positive side, I like many of your compositions and my favorites pictures are very much the same as those on James’ short list but overall, right or wrong, the overall essay left me a bit on the fence and I was not able to really connect with the subject or the individuals shown in the pictures… with exception of your best picture in my view #13… To be clear, I was NOT really looking for more drama or more emotions for the sake of it, no, but somehow, the essay in my view may lack more “closeness” with the individuals, more connection with their soul…. maybe, just maybe, you could have captured more of the very special moments like #13 by spending more time or getting closer… not sure… I actually went also to visit your site and there is no doubt that you are talented photographer but, in several of the essays, I still felt you seem a bit too distant overall… As an example, I looked at your essay on this ghetto in the LA area “welcome to Compton”. Clearly you were recognized for this work so I may be wrong here but I felt also too much distance there… Your are showing some violence yes but somehow, a bit like what is expected, as in a TV series…. Somehow, I would have liked to be more able to connect with the persons shown, get a sense of how/ what drives that violence, see where they live etc… Obviously, this is not an easy topic and getting close was possibly not an option but still…considering other great photographers have tackled similar topic and got real close (I can think of Cocaine by Eugene Richards) you will be compared against the very best which I am sure you aspire to…so my humble advice for what it is worth is for you to better connect, get closer and show us more of these emotions, humanity, feelings, expressions in the faces etc…

    You seem to be an amazingly committed photographer and I have no doubt that we will continue to hear about you. Best of luck Albertina.


  14. First of all thank you to all who took the time to look at this essay, as many of you uderstood, also if I like to think about myself as one of the “socially concerned photographers” who tries to make hers small difference, sometime succesfuly sometimes not, this was not the case.
    The Abruzzo issue was very exposed to the media and became a real political issue with the “right side” media showing poeple celebrating for the new house they recived and the “left side” media showing people demostrating for not reciving any house.
    It happen to me to go to Abruzzo several time for different reasons and assigments and (as most of the time I was with “region Lombardia” who runned 3 tended camps) I was staying with the displaced. All my friends was asking to me how are really doing them? Are they really happy? Are they so angry? Do they love or hate Berlusconi? This pictures are more or less my answer to those questions… they do not celebrate or demostrate all the time, they just try to carry on with their life, they are waiting, they are like in a limbo… In my opinion there are a lot of positive aspects as for example Katleen noticed in the way this people adapted themselfs on sharing everything, living in togeder, ecc… and also some negative things as Justin noticed I also felt that this peole are keeping their lifes on hold, just waiting passivly for something to happen. I also have my political personal idea about how things has been made but I prefer to keep it and to leave everyone free to decide what to “read” from this pictures or of course to ignore tham if they don’t care about this issue…

    To answer some questions…
    Andrea: yes “soffering” in missing (except maybe in pic #5) because at the stages I went to Abruzzo (August, September, October) the schok was already passed and the people were already adapted to their “displaced micro-cosmo”.
    You can see my “Spirit of Shekhawati” pictures in my website… this work btw was made during a workshop with David ;-)
    Mmm don’t know exately wich is my phiolosophy but one thing is sure… I haven’t done so many projects!

    James: Maybe the work looks passive and flat of emotions cause this was exately what those people comunicate to me… don’t know if I can explane… I was quite connected with some of tham… but things like “passive”, “no emotions anymore”, “depression”, “waiting”… was exately what they comunicate to me…
    I cannot exately tell you why I decided to do this in BW, actually singles picture look better in colors but my view of this essay is that and not in color… I don’t know why, I just see it like this.

    Eric: thank you so much for your words :-)
    Normaly I am always emotialy connect with the peolple I photograph, sometimes I try to take a distance in porpouse cause I feel the need to come back with objective pictures and not just with some portraits that may mean a lot to me but do not tell the story to anyone else. What I really wuold like to do is to tell the objective story but including also my personal emotions… Well I am not an “already formed” photographer, this is something I am still working on it…
    Anycase as in this case I really spent a lot of time with some of the subjcets, for the Compton story you are right… the distance with the subjects is real, not just on the pictures as the situation I was didn’t allow me to talk and get close to the people…
    Wuold love to know what you think about my “Out of Tibet” story cause I really find your critiques useful and constructive :-)

    P.S.: sorry to all if my written english is bad and probably I gave you a hard time to read this post!

  15. ‘Andrea: yes “soffering” in missing (except maybe in pic #5) because at the stages I went to Abruzzo (August, September, October) the schok was already passed and the people were already adapted to their “displaced micro-cosmo”.’

    Albertina, my comment about suffering missing was directed to Pete, since he suggested something was missing. I wondered aloud if it was suffering he was missing, since there’d been a disaster. And I suspect that those who commented negatively after me were also missing images of suffering, or at least distress of some sort whereas I had no problem with the emotional level of your pictures. My sentiments about your work are pretty much the same as Kathleen’s, if you read again what I said.

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