Marta Giaccone – Systems of Harmony

Marta Giaccone

Systems of Harmony

[ EPF 2017 – FINALIST ]

Systems of Harmony is a personal portrait of 2016 suburban America. In the 19th century a large number of Europeans and Americans went to great lengths to establish small utopian communities throughout America. They were preachers, social reformers, industrialists, philosophers, anarchists, journalists and socialist thinkers who attracted large crowds to their intentional colonies. Nevertheless they were exclusive establishments, some religious in character, that saw in the vastness of the American wilderness a favorable economic, political and social environment. They didn’t last long: some a few months, others a few years.

I traveled to many of these former utopias drawn by their often evocative and tenderly pretentious names such as Utopia, New Harmony or Modern Times, out of curiosity for what those places look like now and wondering where America is, 150 years later.



There was German Pietist preacher George Rapp who created the Harmony Society (1805-1906) and, together with his Harmonites, aspired to be worthy of Christ and prepare for his return by purifying himself through celibacy, which turned out to be the main cause of their failure, as it prevented new members from within.



In Welsh industrialist Robert Owenss model working community (1826-1828), work and the enjoyment of its results should be experienced communally. In his idea of reorganization of society there was no private property, which, together with no individual sovereignty, again led to failure.

And then there was John Humphrey Noyes’ sect of Perfectionists (1848-1880), who created the practice of “stirpiculture” by which the male members should obey to continence and only the most spiritually advanced ones, first of all Noyes himself, were encouraged to procreate in order to produce superior offspring.

I used these and many more background stories as the basis to create my own trip around America.



Short Bio


Marta Giaccone (1988, Milan, Italy) received an MA in Documentary Photography at the University of South Wales, UK, in 2014 and a BA in English and Hispanic American Literatures at the University of Milan, Italy, in 2011. Her work focuses on issues related to family and youth with a particular interest in the feminine perspective. She is also drawn to the juxtapositions of cultures and ideologies found within contemporary American society. Her practice evolves through long-term documentary projects shot on medium and large format film for a more intimate approach. She has worked for Richard Mosse as a production assistant for “Incoming”; for Magnum Photos NYC, Bruce Davidson, Alessandra Sanguinetti and Mary Ellen Mark as an intern; for Mark Power and Olivia Arthur as a translator. She has been among the finalists of many prizes and taken part in group shows in England, Wales, Italy and the US. Her first solo show “Ritorno all’Isola di Arturo” opens in Procida, Italy, in Sept 2017.


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The Emerging Photographer Fund is supported by generous donors to the Magnum Foundation

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1 Responses to “Marta Giaccone – Systems of Harmony”

  • Interesting idea and I like your treatment so far.

    On a personal level I was struck by two things, this statement:

    “They didn’t last long: some a few months, others a few years,” coupled with your first captioned image from Nauvoo.

    Mormons, of course, did last. I know. My ancestors were among those who got together and headed west after being driven out of Nauvoo and other places. When I was a child, I believed Mormons had created Utopia, but of course they didn’t. Mormons are still around, though, still trying pretty hard to create Utopia.

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