I’m often drawn to what you might call 'uncomfortable' landscapes: those places that represent something of our relationship with nature, both as individuals and as a society. It’s a difficult relationship and the landscape often reflects that. Our urban planning, infrastructure and land management presents a certain environmental awareness these days and a desire to work in harmony with nature (with varying degrees of sincerity). But in reality there is often a point of contact on the edge of developed sites where the marketing image falls apart. Things don’t quite fit, or don’t quite get finished, or are never quite used or maintained as planned. Industrial estates, especially their peripheries, are good examples of an uncomfortable landscape. They are islands of development, strategically positioned with respect to transport links and urban centres but with no other connection to their immediate environment. Industrial estates are ‘non-places’ in the same way as airport terminals and motorway service stations. You can be there without really being ‘there’.
Italy enjoyed an industrial boom in the 1950s and 60s. The area around where I live developed a new economic model known as modello NEC (Nord-Est-Centro), based on the wide diffusion of many small, family-run businesses. Today the landscape is dotted with factories, often with the family home still standing at the entrance, dwarfed by the ‘capannone’ in its garden. Economic growth was consolidated in the 70s and 80s with industrial zones introduced to bring together smaller, inter-dependent artisans in so-called distretti industriali. Modern estates were also built to provide space and logistics for larger companies. For the most part these estates can be found in the countryside, detached, somewhat hidden and uninviting to anyone without a particular reason to go there. As such they have no need look good. They are purely functional: roads, roundabouts, turning spaces for trucks, car parks for workers, gates and road signs. Occasionally there are designated green areas with trees and grass, and benches placed where nobody is ever likely to sit. There may be empty fields within the estate itself, marked out by temporary fencing, allotted for future development but not yet acquired. In this way, despite their appearance, there is an inherent optimism in the industrial estate: a potential for growth, for expansion. A road might end abruptly on the ground but on paper in the planning office it continues onto another section, imagined but not yet realised. The estate, like the economy, is designed for growth.
Economic growth has slowed down somewhat in Italy since 2000: first as a result of entering the Eurozone and then from the collapse of the world’s financial markets. The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt yet another blow to an economy already struggling to recover from the previous crisis. I didn’t intend for Crescita to be a comment on the economic crisis although some kind of crisis seems to emerge from the images. My interest was more environmental. Finding a balance between the needs of industry and the needs of the environment is the most important challenge of our times and I wanted to look at, quite literally, the point of contact between them.
Italo Calvino, in his short story, The Soft Moon, imagines an alternative primordial world, a hard world, made only of concrete, metal and glass that was forever tarnished by the touch of nature. It’s an image I had in mind as I photographed for the project. Within the estates, ‘soft’ nature is limited and managed to a certain extent. But not everywhere. Around the edges and the half-developed corners there is that type of nature that you might not even notice. It is spontaneous and opportunist and there is a certain poverty to it. It could be cut down at any moment to make way for a new car park or factory building and nobody would really care. Like the industrial estate itself, it makes no effort to be pretty. But it shows a determination and an insistence that I admire. It is optimistic. It grows despite us.