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Italian Coastline

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“The more shopping centers are built, the more building sites are started, more merchandize arrives, more dealers work, more transportation happens, and faster money will be able to overcome the uneven boundaries separating illegal and legal territories”

Roberto Saviano – “Gomorrah”

Italy, with its 7400 km of coastline, is one of the main tourist attractions for those who want to spend time on the beach. Also in the past, with its ports and sea towns, the shoreline has had a major role in the birth and history of the country.

However the more recent transformations the coastline of Italy has undergone seem to assert the absence of a policy to preserve and protect its historical and natural heritage.

Humans have built ports, defenses, artificial beaches, homes and industrial plants, permanently destroying the balance obtained over the centuries. This project is a discovery of the traces left by the presence and activities of humans along the shorelines of Italy.



TerraProject Photographers is an Italian collective of documentary photographers founded in Florence in 2006. TerraProject currently has four members: Michele Borzoni, Simone Donati, Pietro Paolini and Rocco Rorandelli. Coming from diverse educational backgrounds, the photographers of the collective complement each other in the various aspects of their photographic work, from project managing to distribution.

In addition to being a promotional tool for its members and their individual works, TerraProject Photographers is also a platform for collective engagement and growth. The experimentation of novel narrative structures within documentary photography is one of the main concerns of the collective, and this is achieved with collective projects and multimedia productions. The members of the collective also work independently on assignments and personal research. Collective projects are produced by the members with constant group discussions, right from the conception of the idea to the definition of the topic to the final editing of the work. The stylistic and journalistic approaches are defined a priori, leaving to each photographer the individual freedom to interpret the story, without forgetting the need for a stylistic unity and a common passe-partout. The objective is to build a strong, unified body of work where the views of the individual are an instrument to realize the work of the collective.

Photo reportages of TerraProject Photographers have been published on the pages of numerous mainstream national and international magazines, including Newsweek, Der Spiegel, GEO, D di Repubblica, Io Donna, Vanity Fair, Magazine del Corriere della Sera, Financial Times Magazine, Internazionale, L’Espresso, Le Monde Magazine, Paris Match, TIME and many more. The collective members have exhibited their works in New York, Beijing, Berlin, Sao Paolo and many venues in Italy, and have also been guests of numerous national and international festivals. The photographers of TerraProject have received prestigious international awards such as the World Press Photo (2010) and the Canon Prize (2010).


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21 thoughts on “terraproject – italian coastline”

  1. A collaborative effort of 4 photographers. I did not read the bio before viewing this essay. I was impressed with the uniformity of the photos throughout the entire essay. You all have given me a view of Italy I did not know existed. But I should have known. Humans and their environment are so many times conflicted horribly.

  2. Hei TerraProject, nice to see you featured on Burn!

    You approached a very important issue, imo, and one to be told again and again since this curse (how Italy neglects or even deliberately destroys its own historical and natural treasure) will be removed from the next generation.

    This essay looks like an atlas: there is a sort of cold scientific approach, the images are very formal and the choice of the square format adds to such feeling. Image #29 contains a more surreal note that maybe is worth exploring too, pushing towards the weirdness of beach life juxtaposed with the monstrosities around… something a la Martin Parr so to speak

  3. Certainly an interesting catalogued approach. Some images appear influenced by the Bechers… http://www.designboom.com/history/becher.html
    I can see the different photographers – Great Topic. I was not aware of “illegal” buildings and cities in Italy. Some of these date back to the 60’s – wasn’t the government different in those times? I wonder how things have changed and are being managed today in comparison to that of the 60’s and earlier. But Obviously the conversation is to point out more needs to be done. Glad I saw this.
    Some of it reminds me of the beaches on Hawaii (the big island)

  4. People who live on the coast and visit demand a certain quality of life living in the same quaters as what was appropriate 4 cunturies ago may sound quaint but it is hard work. I am sure nobody wants to drink out of lead cups from the past in a cold and damp room.
    The images only depict one side of the argument, there is also a lot of great stuff being built

  5. Congratulations on being published here Terraproject. I was reminded immediately of a visit to Sorrento: the town and the Amalfi is stunning but the drive from the airport passes some heavy industrial and seaport areas: makes you wonder what you are going to. The italy of antiquity lives cheek by jowl with the italy of now and, as someone pointed out to me here, it is the light that makes it so beautful – at least in part.

    As for the photography, this is an important issue, not just for Italy but for many places worldwide. When do you limit construction to save the landscape or the view? Is a patch of empty space where the kids play football each day just a derelict space ripe for “development” or a local treasure that should be protected for future generations of footballers? These are the kind of questions that this work invokes in me and I imagine in others too. It’s a genre of photography that is difficult to do well; there is no obvious drama, it is documentary by design and relies (for me) on the cumulative effect of seeing so many god-awful structures thrown up by Mammon. The work is done well here, as attested by my musings.

  6. This is my first post here, but living in Italy and looking around myself I could not avoid to say: great work TerraProject! The problem of “wild overbuilding” is everywhere, since when I was a boy (I’m now more than 60!). ! It will be not solved by photographing it, but this will help to recognize it. Bravi!

  7. The work presented here is just the tip of the iceberg.. the problem is not (only) that of safeguarding the coast, it’s not a question of ‘no progress’, but the real problem is what is behind, the claws of mafia and camorra.. as it seems there’s no government so far that was/is able to eradicate those.. things have gotten way more sophisticated than in the past, when there were murders on the street daily.. it’s much more hidden now..

  8. These pictures don’t really do anything for me, I’m not sure if it’s because there is no beauty to contrast the ugly or what.I’m sure it will be terrible when the whole coast line is hotels, ports or factories but these pictures don’t make me care any more.

  9. Jason,

    “I was not aware of “illegal” buildings and cities in Italy. Some of these date back to the 60’s – wasn’t the government different in those times? I wonder how things have changed and are being managed today in comparison to that of the 60’s and earlier.”

    “We cannot allow the end of the world in the name of what is right. We have a task, a divine task. We must love God greatly to understand how necessary evil is for good. God knows it, and I know it too.”
    – Former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti in “Il Divo”, by Paolo Sorrentino

    Besides mafia implications highlighted by Eva, call me a pessimist, but I think that Italians’ DNA misses some sort of Ethics-gene: the consequences were/are a typical short-sighted approach to every problem and the prevailing of personal interests over the community’s ones. In addition, the 60’s in Italy coincided with an economic boom (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_economic_miracle): everything seemed feasible – just consume now and don’t worry for the future, guaglio’ ;)

    A grandiose fresco of Italian post-war politics and society is depicted by director Paolo Sorrentino in “Il Divo” (even if the movie focuses on 80’s-90’s events, consider that “Democrazia Cristiana” has been the ruling party in Italy since the end of the 40’s!)
    I know that most of the events narrated in the movie could be quite obscure to non-Italians (and for many Italians too, especially the twenty-something or younger), but Sorrentino’s powerful visual narration worth a try.

  10. ” How strange and unnatural destiny is. ….Man, by his very nature, tends to give himself an explanation of the world into which he is born. And this is what distinguishes him from the other species. Every individual, even the least intelligent, the lowest of outcasts, from childhood on gives himself some explanation of the world. And with it he manages to live. And without it, he would sink into madness.” –Elsa Morante, History: a novel

    ” Later on, the unhappy man, bedecked with festal wreaths and sacred robes, was carried in procession through the whole city, and made the butt of general execration, to the end that all the calamities of all the State might be concentrated on his devoted head. This done, he was hurled headlong from a rock.”–PETRONIUS, Satyricon

    CONGRATULATIONS Michele, Simone, Pietro, Rocco on a wonderful, thoughtful and strange photographic tableau….

    In fact, what I like very much about this project is NOT that it is a depiction of the devastation of the Italian landscape (we, all of us, have been devastating our landscapes since time immemorial) but that it is a strange, surreal tableau itself….the photographs, the moments, the scenes look, to my eye, very much as if they were paintings scribbled along the walls of homes and caves of 3000 years ago….what is so arresting isn’t just the surreal juxtaposition of the beautiful Mediterranean with the industrial oddities of the powerplants and supertankers and powerplatforms and eroding terra cotta and corroding and corrosive steal oxidizing and rusting its dying breath, but the miraculously brilliant and idiotic claim of Man to catapult his aspiration for play and relaxation over the appearance of what is falling down and apart, literally bruising and eviscerating before his eyes…..human hubris and human brilliance, undiminished, in one swoop….

    I love that the emphasis, the visual vocabulary here (again to me) is about the collapse of these human dwellings…each of these buildings and homes and motels and ships and pools falling apart, chipped and plattered pieces of an old Etruscan tableau, chizzled and cracked….dust and detritus and demented….and what remains insurmountable?: nature…the landscape….the power of the land to sustain such incursions and industrialized metastasis….a sicken land of buildings, the buildings diseased and dank, forlorn compared with the sea and rock and girth of the sky….

    Of course, the completely fucked up juxtaposition of the buildings with the beauty of the mountains cliffs, Icarus’s wings against the Nuclear Powerplant’s melting of his lifting light wing…the scale, the human scale competition with the godliness of the land….and all that manner of outersized ambition…

    i’m struck by what seems so obviously wonderful about this project and that is not only it’s formality (the square format, the new-objectivism, the, for the most part, distant and dispassionate eye) which renders these scenes and these places and people like stiff, rigid paintings from ochre and sienna, but that it becomes quite clear that we are NO different now then we were 5,000 years ago…in our need to out joist the land around us…..in our aspirations (often idiotic) to out architecture the land and sea, but also in our unquenchable ability to supplant depressing, dire reality with creative, hungry desire for life…in a totally fucked up paradox, aren’t these tableau really about the joy to live, the joy to find our bodies burnt by the sun and licked by the sea in even the most desolate of destructed places?…..that is either the most ridiculous hubris imaginable (and it is) or the most beautiful overriding urge I know…or both ;))….

    Like the Coda from Antonioni’s magnificent L’eclisse ….all that emptiness, except that the world is filled with more than Monica V in desolation….the red dessert of our living…..maybe, in the end, Fellini was closer to the truth that beloved Antonioni….

    maybe in truth, no matter what we believe, no matter what we know to be the truth of our destructive ways, we are still orgiastic…and for good and bad, that is our ineluctable nature….

    for me, a beautiful and funny (more than just irony) essay not about destruction of the ‘beloved’ Italy (though, of course that too), but about our ability to leap into the sea, even though we leap there because we’ve torched the land…

    and Imants is right….i wish we’d stop fetishisizing culture and see we’re all bound in the same destruction/creation cycle….

    thanks for sharing this wonderful fresco of the living and the collapsing…

    terrific work :))


  11. Impressive body of work highlighted by the continuity of every single image which makes this photographic essay work even better.Congratulation guys

  12. Hi everybody,
    thanks to Burn for this publication and thanks for your attention and comments,
    we would like to share some information about the project, we can see that many of you know well Italy…

    Let’s first say something about the form: the idea of our collective writing is to decide beforehand a style and then all four photographers work looking at the collective result and not to the individual expression. This process is a way to give importance to the story and the narration, in an aesthetic view we try to discuss about the idea of “authoriality”, and in a political view we try to work together without a Darwinian fight among each other to survive (in a little way we do what we would like to see in the world).

    As far as the content is concerned, the work started with a more narrow emphasis on illegal buildings in Italy. We then decided to focus our attention on the coastal landscape, and after some research and first photos, we understood that the subject had to be wider. We planned to explore the entire coastline by car (dividing it between us) and to focus on anthropization, i.e. how humans (through artificial constructions) had changed the natural seaside landscape.
    Most of the portrayed subjects were built between 1960 to early 1980, when not only the government was different, but all the laws and public perceptions about urbanism was so different. At those time we did not posses the contemporary idea of preserving the landscape and today’s ecologist conscience was yet to fully develop.
    One example is the development of the tourism industry, which followed a very undisciplined pattern. This is clearly visible in the Amalfi coast, where immense hotles were built to accommodate the growing number of visitors, without considering the impact that they would have had on environment and landscape.
    The skyscraper in the first picture is on of the tallest armed concrete buildings in Italy. When built, it was the symbol of progress, a monument to the growing mass tourism industry in the Adriatic sea, a laconic message about work, money and development. After 30 years the Adriatic coast is devastated by this unsustainable human impact, providing a permanent scar.

    So one interesting point that this work allowed us to discover is also how the perception of what is good or bad can change over time.
    Of course this happens when you work for the immanent future, without keeping an eye on the long-term. When oil was discovered in Sicily, the novelty was acclaimed as a great achievement, a definite sign of progress, and many underdeveloped areas hoped for a richer future. Today, after having permanently devastated their natural landscape, the repercussions can be seen on various levels, from reduce tourism to depleted fishing space.

    For sure the economic post-war boom was one of the engines of this architectural rush, and a feast for criminal organizations, in the last 20 years especially keen on reorganizing their business plan. It’s also true that many illegal houses were built directly by the people, without the interface of Mafia, Camorra, ‘Ndrangheta or Sacra Corona Unita, but with a shared backbone of illegality. For us, these various aspects mix up together and guide our curiosity and investigation. We don’t wont to say which constructions are good or bad but just understand and discover how is the place we live.

    We were all born in Florence and like in many other place of Italy, we are offered incredible examples of universal architecture, with the most beautiful and functional structures built centuries ago. Next to these masterpieces, we build things that after 20 years show signs of deterioration.

    thanksss and good nightttt


  13. Hey Terra Project :))

    i do like the idea of a collective project, and the notion that the sum of the parts is great AS a whole :))…and there are small, idosyncratic differences in approach that if parsed, seem to reveal slightly different sensibilities :))…but, it might be impossible to know for certain had i not known you were a collective :))…are you guys familiar with SMOKE?…friends of mine from France/Belgium/Portugal/Finland who produce magnificent projects as a group :))…their difference is that they EMPHASIZE the differences in their individual visual approach and aesthetics to create a whole…kind of the opposite of what TerraProject does….the tensions there are very interesting….it might be interesting for you to sniff around that notion too: what makes, for me, at least, group projects interesting, challenging and exciting (i’ve participated in a number myself as work projects and exhibition endeavors) is to see if you can STRAIN your similarities…show the incongruity o f your visions…:)))…

    this strange desolation and deterioration of these buildings is what i found the most interesting about this project, more so than the ‘devastation’ of the landscape, as I tried to write abouve…’cause the land remains stalwart and seemingly indomitable compared to all those villas falling apart, like time-worn fescos….

    and lastly:

    i hope you print these beauties BIG BIG for exhibitions :))

    will the prints outlive the structures? ;))…who knows :))


  14. Excellent essay – the thing that most strikes me about it is that every single scene reminds me of a beach scene that I have seen somewhere with my own eyes and I have never been to Italy.

    Even the nuclear power plant. When I was a teenager in Eureka, CA, I used to surf within sight of a nuclear power plant.

    Discouraging though much of this is, it still makes me want to got to Italy and hang out on the beach there.

    I doubt that this will ever happen, but you never.

    I could wind up there next week.

    Thanks and congratulations, Terra Project.

  15. Excellent work…I like the continuity. The people in the pictures seem enveloped in dread…

    Having lived in Italy on and off for the past 15 years there is indeed a big problem with illegal building and development, and not only on the coasts…you can see it between Roma Nord and Bracciano for example. Part of larger problems…too many people on the planet!

    I think Carl de Keyzer is currently working on a similar project on the European coasts?

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