2021 - Ongoing
"Tales of fire" is a photographic project that addresses the complex phenomenon of fires in Salento, a sub-region of southern Italy.
Until the beginning of the XXI century, the Salento territory was characterized by a flourishing monoculture of olive trees. Since 2013, due to the spread of the Xylella fastidiosa bacterium, which appeared under unclear circumstances, olive trees began to suffer from a disease called Rapid Desiccation Complex. To date, it is estimated that the infected plants in the area are more than 21 million. The most obvious consequence is a landscape that has turned from green and lush into an endless expanse of dead trees.
In a territory in progressive depopulation and withering, fires have found their sustenance: dry olive trees burn like incandescent torches, as do the few remaining wooded areas, generating an unprecedented environmental disaster.
Although fires have always been there, in the last twenty years their frequency and intensity has increased dramatically. As a matter of fact, almost all fires are arsons. However, the reasons given are many: abandonment of the land by new generations; use of fire as an cheap method to free land from dried up olive trees. Yet, these factors alone are not enough to explain a phenomenon of such vastness.
The real reasons may have much deeper economic roots, and would be linked to the public funding for agriculture and to the public funding for the uprooting and replanting of diseased olive trees with more productive varieties. Furthermore, according to several testimonies collected, in many cases fire is a way to depreciate a land that is already on sale or, worse, the tool used to force the owners to sell their land.
Behind Salento there seem to be different interests, from those related to new projects of super-intensive olive oil production, which would make Italy able to compete again on the international market by holding up the competition with other countries (such as Spain or Tunisia), to those related to bioeconomy and energy transition, and especially solar and wind power.
In conclusion, the point is that Salento is burning, and to go up in smoke is not just the territory but also a centuries-old agricultural tradition where the small owner was the guardian of the land.
Veronica Andrea Sauchelli and Valentina Borgato