In the Land of Fire

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  • In the Land of Fire

    In one of europe’s most poisoned landscapes they are quietly burying the dead in a large, newly built cemetery. Over two decades of toxic waste dumping has left the region of campania, italy so poisoned that people are afraid of drinking the local water, or eating regionally grown food. Trapped between the violence of the mafia and the indifference of the government, the residents of the region abandon themselves to a struggle for their lives against elevated levels of cancer and genetic defects. A once picturesque terrain of italy, campania’s beauty could match that of any other roman soil, soil, which has yielded the highest quality produce for years. Yet in the late 1990’s saw the height of the camorra’s lucrative development of campania as the illegal dumping ground for the rich, industrialized north of the country. The toxic waste of various types including chemicals, heavy metals, petroleum and more are buried under ground, burned in large quantities, hidden in conventional house-hold trash dumps and in some cases even thought to be buried in the foundation of building structures. The camorra has become the european leader in illegal toxic waste disposal, generating profits upwards of tens of billions of euro each year. Although scientific studies by the italian national research council, as well as the american military and the world health organization, have raised serious environmental and health concerns, the italian government remains indifferent on the situation.

  • Milan, Italy-November, 2008: In Naples you pass a votive of the Madonna on almost every block, every building, above every bed. She is meant to protect, to ward off evil and watch over. I happened upon this Madonna watching over Policarbo, a petrol company outside of Milan. I wonder why the Madonna was not there to protect the people of Campania when the Camorra came with trucks to haul the dregs of Policarbo's petrol waste down to Campania.
  • Marigliano, Naples, Italy-January, 2014: Maria Formisano, 69 clutches her breast where she recently underwent a lumpectomy for stage 4 breast cancer that spread to her brain. Although originally given only 15 days to live she underwent radiation and chemotherapy for 8 months and is now awaiting a scan in less than a months time that will show whether or not she is cancer free. Maria and her husband, originally from Napoli moved to Marigliano in Naples Province for what they thought would be a better life for them and their children. They never imagined that the tap water they drank and the produce they ate for years would turn out to be filled with toxins.
  • Marigliano, Italy-July, 2009: There were plenty of fireworks although I don’t see what there is to celebrate. Almost every family I meet has someone who is sick in their home. Here there is no dolce vita, here it’s depressed…you can feel it in the air, it’s suffocating, a sentiment of which you want to escape. I want to escape, run back to Rome as fast as I can, go back home, forget all about what I’ve seen, this is not my problem, or is it? I live in this country, I came here for the quality of life that I always dreamed to have. Here in Marigliano there is no quality of life, there is just survival. And so I am compelled to stay.
  • Marigliano, Naples, Italy-January, 2014: An abandoned sofa lies amidst farmland along the Regi Lagni Canals of Marigliano in the province of Naples. The canals, which lead from inland into the ocean and weave through Naples province have been subject to years of toxic waste dumping.
  • Marigliano, Italy-August, 2009: I’ve been told the reason they burn toxic trash during the day along the canal is that the sun combusts the chemicals and the trash burns faster and more completely. Here the trash burns day and night, non-organic smells permeate the air. Firemen come and go, never really knowing what they are snuffing out.
  • Marigliano, Italy-July, 2009: Gennaro was preparing Antonella’s dinner. I watched with which care he stirred the mixture of meat and vegetables, cooling it with occasional blows and tasting it to make sure it was balanced. Ever since her tongue was removed Antonella eats through a tube in her stomach, pefering not to eat chicken, even though she can no longer taste, its' something she never liked.
  • Marigliano, Italy-July, 2009: I started photographing Antonella and her family on the day of her sister Marianna's wedding. Smiles were strained, Antonella was too sick to come to the ceremony and barely able to make it to the reception. A day meant for joy and new beginnings was weighed down with heavy hearts.
  • Marigliano, Italy-July, 2009: The bird was lying dead on the grough when I arrived to Antonella's house, not squished but shot, by a gun, a pistol. The deep red blood stain stood out in the midday light. I wondered if it was a young camorra drug dealer or just a frustrated it's always hard to tell the reality, guns come easy and life looses it's value. I took it as an omen for what was to come...a death.
  • Marigliano, Italy-August, 2009: There were 6 of them bridled to perfection, purple ear coverings and black feather headpieces. They hauled a traditional Napolitan carriage, flanked with 2 internal statues of Padre Pio and a coffin…their faces indifferent at the task that was at hand.
  • Marigliano, Italy-July, 2009: “We are ruined here”. Every single home I enter, there has been someone who has recited to me this exact sentence, almost like a mantra and in the case of Katia, as in every other case there is a sense of resignation, a tone within the voice, an acceptance of circumstance. The once beautiful lands of the Roman Empire and conquest of many others is now reduced to a ragged land seething with poison.
  • Marigliano, Italy-June, 2009: I was never able to capture the eyes of Andrea. I watched his mother close them and put him to rest after he died. Later she showed me 2 pictures on her cell phone of Andrea, one she had taken when he was well and the other a few days before he died. His eyes say it all, the fear, the resignation. He knew he was going to die. Afraid to smile because he knew.
  • Marigliano, Italy-June, 2009: The priest talked about sacrifice, that Andrea needed to be sacrificed upon the cross as Jesus was…the only thing Andrea was sacrificed for is dirty money and a heap of toxic trash that to this day lies covered in a plastic tarp alongside the family's previous home.
  • Marigliano, Italy-July, 2009: I watch her peacefully sleeping with a bit of dread for when she will wake up. She will wonder where she is and how she got there, what day it is, what time it is…and then she will remember that Andrea is dead and that they are coming to put him in the coffin at 9:30.
  • Marigliano, Naples, Italy-January, 2014: A farmer burns a fire in his broccoli field in a farm near a known toxic waste dump site known as "Masseria Verduzio," in Marigliano considered one of the points in the "Triangle of Death."
  • Marigliano, Italy-July, 2009: The funeral all happened so fast. Before I knew it Lina and Andrea’s Aunt were fainting and people were lunging at that coffin. I was stunned and deeply saddened, I couldn’t photograph. Then when everyone had dispersed along came Amodio, Andrea’s best friend, to share in a last smoke together.
  • Marigliano, Italy-July, 2009: Today Lina can’t believe her own reality, it’s too much to bare, almost surreal, like she is out of her own body looking down upon herself. She is tired, tired of seeing Andrea’s face without life, afraid to smile, afraid to breath.
  • Pavia, Italy-August, 2009: I watched Armando in his last days leading up to the bone marrow transplant. He was dancing to the wedding video of some family friends while playing the xylophone all at the same time. He reminded me of myself when I had cancer, of the strength and resilience one finds to combat something so dark and so frightening. Despite his young three years, Armando understands this, that he must be strong, he must rise to the occasion.
  • Marigliano, Italy-July, 2009: I was thinking what an odd paradox it was that by some weird twist of fait some toxic chemicals made it all the way on a boat in blue barrels from Africa to Italy, into ancient Roman soil, only to be transported on the sneaker of an American Photographer to her neighborhood park in Rome.
  • Qualiano, Naples, Italy-January, 2014: A statue of the Virgin Mary prays along the road in Quagliano, a known toxic waste dumping area.