Meet the people of the Central Apennines, Italy

December 1, 2014

For me, being on a photo mission has usually meant traveling and working far away from home, in a more or less exotic place. It therefore was a novel feeling to be “on assignment” for Rewilding Europe in the Central Apennines of Italy, which is really literally speaking my own backyard.

Bear advocate Matteo Simonicca from Lecce nei Marsi in his "Bear Pub". Central Apennines, Abruzzo, Italy. September 2014.
Bear advocate Matteo Simonicca from Lecce nei Marsi in his “Bear Pub”. Central Apennines, Abruzzo, Italy. September 2014.

So, whilst I would usually have had to rush and gather as much information as possible before travelling on an assignment in a foreign place, here, given my knowledge of people and areas around home, I had the luxury of using much more of the time available for the photo assignment, and spread it out over a much longer period of time, take a breath, give room for things to just to happen and force myself to find new perspectives on the places I already know so well. The feeling of “being-on-a-photo-mission” now instead had to come from inside of me, rather than from the place I would eventually be travelling to.

Umberto Esposito, mountain guide and CEO at Wildlife Adventures, partner of Rewilding Europe in the Apennines, showing wolf scat while leading a group for a bear watching excursion. Abruzzo National Park.
Umberto Esposito, mountain guide and CEO at Wildlife Adventures, partner of Rewilding Europe in the Apennines, showing wolf scat while leading a group for a bear watching excursion. Abruzzo National Park.

My assignment from Rewilding Europe for this special mission was to focus on people, rather than on pure nature, and especially to document positive local stories to tell. Stories that could show that living with and from the wild is indeed possible. Stories that would tell a little about the striking mix of culture, nature and history which makes this incredible region so unique: the true Wild Heart of Italy, situated just some 100 km from two chaotic cities like Rome or Napoli/Naples.

During the months that I have been shooting the images for this commission, I met a lot of people, from old shepherds to young beekeepers, organic farmers and mountain guides as well as hikers, bikers, mushroom collectors and pizza makers. I have tasted smoked cheese, roasted almonds, black truffle and gentian liqueur. I have also seen bears, wolves and people worshipping the statue of a saint covered in living snakes. I have discussed about wildlife watching and wildlife management; I have learned how to cook wild spinach and all the names of the local apple varieties; I have shown children the simple beauty of a frog and gotten confronted by angry shepherd dogs.

I realise that in very few other places that I had visited before, I could find such an incredible diversity of lifestyles and traditions and nature, and see how all these somehow perfectly fit into the maybe odd context of rugged limestone mountains, vast prairies and mysterious beech woods roamed by bears, wolves, deer and vultures. It all fits into a larger frame. The organic apple farmer who tolerated the bear every now and then visiting (and destroying) some trees in his orchard; the beekeeper, who was keen on camera trapping the bear that stole his honey; red deer grazing right next to pure bred “Pezzata” cows and a shepherd, smiling when speaking of wolves; bakers that renamed their chocolate cake after the bear, and young girls doing workout in a century-old beech forest.  Sure, there were also problems: young entrepreneurs not finding enough funding for their business plans and graduated wildlife researchers that had to integrate their meagre income with second jobs.

Woman looking at oak leaves. Piani Palentini, Scurcola Marsicana, Abruzzo, Italy. May 2014
Woman looking at oak leaves. Piani Palentini, Scurcola Marsicana, Abruzzo, Italy. May 2014

Foreign visitors not finding a place to stay and villages abandoned by their inhabitants who moved to larger cities. Some livestock owners would not dislike seeing the predators disappear, whilst some villagers had never even visited the amazing valley right behind their houses. Yes, there are problems, but I would see them more as very specific and temporary exceptions.

The vast majority of stories I came across showed a common positive trait. I had been watching this all my life, but only now I could see what it really meant. All the traditions and unique features came from the land these people live on. No matter how old or young, everyone here is now living thanks to the rich and stimulating wild context in the surroundings. Wildness is a boosting force and I can see that nature conservation really works when it comes from our hearts, especially when we manage to find our way of living by following Nature’s own rhythms. But all this needs courage, experience and knowledge.

I could not have imagined that I would have learned so much during these months, working on this photo mission in an area I already knew so intimately. And I am grateful to photography, since it makes me be able to focus so much on the apparently elusive reality that surrounds me everyday.

Take a look at the gallery below to see Bruno’s other photographic encounters in the area:

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