Umane Tracce, a book by Nicola Paccagnella
Everything you’ll see in this book is gone.
The malt house in the port had long since ceased its operations and its original business activity. Since the 1980s, market and manufacturing regulations have gradually stripped it of its significance and purpose, and over these years of neglect it has become a makeshift shelter for many.
Now the owner has started a complete redevelopment and for the building there was no other option but demolition. Amid neglect and abandonment, in the midst of a sealed fate, however, signs of life, proof of existence, gleams of dignity have sprung up.
In the empty spaces that have been occupied, signs of human activity unfold into visual pathways striking a perfect balance between emotional value and suggestive force. Places that have been abandoned by our society and that have come back to life, torn edges that have been sewn up, telling stories that appear to be distant from us.
We call them “invisible”, so as to justify our indifference; we see them as “illegal”, asserting our authority; we picture them as “invaders”, calling on a power to defend us. These are vestiges, which lead us to come to terms with our pervasive selfishness and encourage us to reflect and rediscover our humanity.
Journalist Paolo Coltro wrote: “There, for the same reason that our ancestors occupied natural caves, people of a different culture have come to inhabit these present-day caves. Nearly invisible beings, or rather wishing to be, because even having a home in our world implies rules. Outside the rules lies illegality, and so one hides, and it’s best if those around turn a blind eye.
But how could one possibly disguise life? Abandoned yet structured as the concrete dwellings stand, a roof is a roof to those who lack one. The dullness of the bare walls gets disrupted: it only takes a minor disturbance to hear their breathing and voices, steps, rummaging again. That’s what endurance of existence, buildings and mankind is all about. Those spooky floors are given a new, different, unexpected, compulsory and essential function.
The new people – the immigrants – are as black as the darkness that shields them every night, only intermittently brightened by the pale flames that lit it up. They too look like ghosts, the squatters: they are known to be there but cannot be seen, they live in places that were not meant to be lived in. During the day the emptiness returns, yet the factory still throbs with life, restricted by its off-limits status.
Not the emptiness though, for it overflows with evidence of past presences, ancient ones that vanished thirty years ago, as well as new ones. Nearly every step reveals testimonies to this: even a piece of paper tells the story; an invoice dating back to 1964, tells of a defunct economy, of offices that have since disappeared, of accountants gone who knows where.
The building, the old pathways along the plant, the large communication holes form part of the evidence. The shadows of machinery that is no more have become vestiges. Even the smallest details, such as the nails, become significant to the viewer. And if a photographer walks in here, they certainly won’t miss them. Then that the ambience of past times, enshrined in concrete, is translated into graphics, outlines, illustrations and compositions.
These photographs capture the spirit, all the spirits of unknown people of the past and the present. And even the force of things around those people. They tell stories through flashes steeped in fascinating form, a form that has disappeared into the demolition dust. Of those lives – the productive one and the one as a catacomb for the living – only these images remain. What was gone is still there, thanks to them”.