The Danger of Marble Extraction

In a two-part series, Andrea Foligni addresses the problems that come with extracting the world-famous Carrara marble in Tuscany, Italy, making use of an informal documentary language.

© Andrea Foligni, from the series Apuan Carbonate

Carrara marble is a high-quality material that has been used since Ancient Rome - the Pantheon was built with it, and Renaissance painter and sculptor, Michelangelo valued it above all other materials. Among other masterpieces, his famous David was crafted from one single block of the Italian stone.

“They call Carrara quarry Michelangelo’s quarry because it’s romantic and suggestive of a connection with the past. But much more has been extracted in the past 30-40 years compared to 2,000 years ago, which causes tremendous problems. And this, especially since around 75% of marble extraction are not blocks but small stones and powder used to produce calcium carbonate”, photographer Andrea Foligni explains.

© Andrea Foligni, from the series Apuan Carbonate

Calcium carbonate is everywhere, used as a base for toothpaste, cosmetics, glues, detergents and ceramics. The popularity of this material results in the over-exploitation of the quarry, turning the mountains white at a concerning pace. In one photograph, Foligni made a fictional projection of what the landscape may soon look like from above if the extraction doesn’t slow down.

“Every time I go there I see that the quarry expands more and more”, he noticed. “I didn’t want the photographs to represent classical landscapes - I love landscape photography but also hate it! I didn’t want didactic images.” To talk about the environmental perils and subsequent alteration of the landscape, Foligni created sculptural representations of them. “I creased a piece of paper to represent an aerial view of a marble landscape. Everything would be white; the landscape fully erased.”

© Andrea Foligni, from the series Whiter (White Water)

This picture closes the series, whose abstract approach emphasises the message. He also built piles of products made of calcium carbonate, creating man-made landscapes juxtaposed to their natural equivalent. Each resulting diptych works as a chilling warning.

The extraction of Marble in the region doesn’t only threaten the mountains, it also pollutes what is Tuscany’s most important water reserve. In another series, Foligni focused on this very particular phenomenon. “The marble dust is one of the many causes of river pollution in this area. When it rains, the rivers turn completely white, like milk because marble dust is carried along by the currents”, he explains.

© Andrea Foligni, from the series Whiter (White Water)

For this series again, Foligni made use of a reconstitution apparatus - he filled water bottles with dust and covered objects (and fake animals) in marble powder mud, and fed marine plants with marble dust in an aquarium. Layers of meaning unravel in each image despite their apparent quietness.

As a conclusion, the white upper body of a Madonna meant to protect the quarrymen confronts the viewer with two lifted palms. “She should protect quarrymen from their dangerous work but seems to say: "Stop, please!" or "I give up!", Foligni writes. “I like the use of fiction in documentary. Given the plurality of languages and media, we can use all of it, and it’s good to experiment with other ways to communicate. In the future, I want to use music, video, photo, and drawings to address this issue. I like media contamination!”

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Andrea Foligni is an Italian photographer exploring social and environmental issues. Follow him on PHmuseum, Twitter, and Instagram

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

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Getting Closer presents photographic works, mainly in a documentary vein, that speak about the causes and consequences of environmental degradation.

PHM 2018 Women Photographers Grant
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