Living in a Nuclear Neighbourhood

In his series, Vie chez la central, Italian photographer Andrea Pugiotto captures what it is like to live next to a nuclear power plant. The result undermines obvious expectations.

© Andrea Pugiotto, from the series, Vie chez la central

“I worked on this story 10 years ago, when Italy was about to vote whether to expand their production of nuclear energy or not. With a writer friend, we decided to go to France to explain to the Italian people how one can live close to a nuclear plant”, Pugiotto explains. His photos feature all the components of a perfect life, be it for the omnipresence of the characteristic smoky towers in the background; a family hanging out by a swimming pool; a private garden filled with colourful flowers; or a couple preparing for an outdoor lunch.

“Some of the people I met were at times surprised by my project, as they reckon they're leading a normal life. They explained how beautiful it is to live here as the cost of housing is much lower and they don’t have to pay for electricity”, Pugiotto adds.

© Andrea Pugiotto, from the series, Vie chez la central

It may look cynical - the disconnection between the travesty of paradise and the destructive potential of the monumental neighbours is striking - yet Pugiotto’s purpose was never political. He even claims that he would gladly move there. “Unlike other energy production sites such as coal mines, windmill farms, or hydroelectric dams, the negative impact of a nuclear power plant is only a long-term possibility. And in this case, the geographical range of the impact is so wide that it would cause great harm up to where I currently live in Italy.”

The interpretation of his images is left to the viewer who can perceive the scenes literally as a good situation or as a Simpson-like set-up. Pugiotto’s purpose was rather to approach the story in a formal way: as a depiction. “I wanted to create a painting of a concept. So, I looked for the best place for this given situation. Then I asked people to pose for the photos as I wanted to produce typical family portraits.”

© Andrea Pugiotto, from the series, Vie chez la central

Though not directly meant to trigger debate - the project was mainly distributed in style magazines and art galleries - his seemingly neutral portrayal of such a controversial situation forces us to reflect upon the compromises one accepts to satisfy the permanent race for energy.

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Andrea Pugiotto is an Italian photographer living and working in Milan. He divides his time between personal reportage and magazine and corporate visual communication.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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