This book begins and ends with the same photo: a little girl from behind looking at the land in a plowed field. Having two identical photos in a photography book is not a usual thing, especially in opening and closing.
I browsed Scalandrê by Marco Zanella, recently published by Cesura Publish, I think about twenty times in a row. I was completely fascinated by it. I admit I heard about this work on Instagram and when I saw the image of the man lying on his bike in a vineyard, I thought a new work by Mark Steinmetz was out. After reading the post, I realized that I didn’t understand anything and that instead I was looking at something unexpected: in the Romagna hinterland there was someone taking pictures. To clarify, Emilia-Romagna has a very lively history and present in terms of visual production. Let’s think of Luigi Ghirri and Guido Guidi, without forgetting Federico Fellini, the SiFest, the Cesura collective, the Photographic Observatory and many other authors and realities that in 22,510 square kilometers keep this territory extremely rich from the point of view of photographic culture. But in 2021 there was not only someone photographing but photographing something ancient: the earth.
Cotignola, in the province of Ravenna, is the place where all the photographs of Scalandrê, and where time seems to have stopped. It “seems”, because it is an illusion. The photographer, in fact, is faced with an epochal change, certainly marked by the pandemic, but in reality previous and capable of surviving it: technological change. In a phone call Zanella tells me that precisely that photo, that of the man with the bike in the vineyard, was taken while the man “gleaned” (collected the grapes left over from the harvest) after the passage of a huge machine for the automated harvest. He also says that perhaps in five or six years all the old rows of vines will be replaced by new ones, able to better “resist” the mechanized harvest.
Scalandrê it is the registration of a phase shift (which in Romagna stands for “out of season”): an Italian provincial reality of peasant heritage crossed by an industrial parenthesis, with a present and a future of uncertain change. Cotignola becomes the paradigm of the history of many other Italian towns, the archetype of a “country” (as in the work of the same name by Cesare Zavattini and Paul Strand). Among the characters that populate the project there are no middle-aged people, but only elderly or young people; opposites approaching like the ends of a straight line that becomes a circle when bent. They are cyclicality and seasonality, the rhythm dictated by a specific time of the year (also underlined by the editing of the book), the fundamental points of the work and life of the community itself.
What then does the little girl who looks at the earth communicate? The feeling you get is not one of nostalgia or the classic “who knows where we will end up”. On the contrary, the Cotignola community “does not reject modernity, but includes it and slows it down. In its womb, it adapts and transforms itself. Together they survive ”, as the author says.
Just in Cotignola from 10 October it will be possible to see the exhibition of the work exhibited at the Ex Ospedale Testi on the occasion of River Monument, a group show dedicated to the town that also collects the works of Michele Buda (photographer) and Giovanni Lami (sound artist), both produced during a residency in Cotignola between 2020 and 2021.