Marco Zanella finds love within the Italian countryside

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All pictures from Scalandrê © Marco Zanella.

This article is printed within the latest issue of British Journal of Photography journal – a special edition using a double theme, Love or Ukraine. It can be delivered immediate to you with an 1854 Subscription or available to buy as a single issue for the BJP shop .

The Italian professional photographer travelled to the village associated with Cotignola in 2018, seeking inspiration and a new beginning. There, he found a sleepy, agricultural community living according to the seasons and conserving traditional practices in the face of a rapidly changing world. He also met his 1st love, and now, completed his first photobook.  

The particular historic village of Cotignola sits in the Italian Province of Ravenna. It is a small farming community of about 8000 people, where rural identity is valued, tittle-tattle is impossible to avoid, and where the digital age is often thwarted by tradition. Like in a lot of agricultural villages in the north-eastern province, life pertains to the slow, natural rhythm, following the seasons as they ease into one another. In the height of summer, daily activities ambulate round the heat of the sun, through night, life erupts round the restaurants in the village center.  

Marco Zanella strode directly into Cotignola for the first time in Come july 1st 2018 with few possessions and even fewer connections. Prior to he arrived, Zanella has been caught up in a never-ending cycle of post-production, agonising more than a visual narrative from the numerous projects he’d been focusing on. “I was living unhealthily, locked away in the studio, in darkness, not consuming enough sunlight, ” he admits that. “I needed a change, therefore i contacted the organisers of Nell’Arena delle Balle pada Paglia and expressed an interest in working with them. ”

ITALY. Cotignola, Emilia-Romagna. Summertime 2018. Mariani’s country home. Rebecca, Tommaso and Teresa after swimming in the pool. © Marco Zanella.

ITALY. Cotignola, Emilia-Romagna. Summer 2019. Straw bales. © Marco Zanella.

“For me, Cotignola went from being just a reason to change the life I was resulting in being a life-changing experience. It is where I found my first real love, and exactly where I made Scalandrê , my initial book as a photographer. ”

Nell’Arena delle Balle di Paglia is an annual outdoor performing arts festival set on the floodplain in the Cotignola countryside – an expanse of land where the river Senio meets the Emiliano Romagnolo Canal. Preparation for the festival is year-long, involving maqui berry farmers, carpenters and local volunteers who erect a Roman-style amphitheatre using balle di paglia (bales of straw). Since it began, in 2009, it offers become the event of the season in the Province of Ravenna, attracting musicians, poets and artisans eager to participate in the particular celebrations. It is when, every summer, Cotignolans invite outsiders to share their world.

“As a joke, I told [the organisers] I was looking for love and images, ” says Zanella. “But these people took me seriously and even integrated my quote in the festival’s flyer. ” By the end of the summer, Zanella had discovered what he was looking for. He began to photograph Nell’Arena that will July. And, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, he continued making pictures of the village on the three subsequent years, recording life in these rural surroundings.

ITALY. Cotignola, Emilia-Romagna. Summer season 2019. Inside Pasquale Ercolani’s home. © Marco Zanella.

  Zanella grew to become absorbed by Cotignola, dropped in its slow tempo, its heart, and his newfound really like, Cristina, whom he fulfilled on the first day from the festival. “For me, Cotignola went from being simply an excuse to change the life I had been leading to being a life-changing experience. It’s where I found my first real love, and where I made Scalandrê , the first book as a professional photographer. ” Unfolding over 104 pages, in 58 black-and-white photographs, Zanella’s book explores an agricultural community considered down by the pandemic, by industrialisation, the digitisation of our own world, and by an altering climate. The only certainty may be the change of seasons, however the people find strength in the binds of tradition, and in each other. They preserve these memories at all costs.

The title Scalandrê derives from the regional Romagnol dialect, which means ‘out of season’, recommending that the absence of something is only temporary, and in time it will return, renewed yet familiar. It illustrates a cycle that will Cotignola has moved through over many centuries, pressing against the tide of a quickly evolving world. And what Zanella himself has done by remaking his life there.

ITALY. Cotignola, Emilia-Romagna. Spring 2019. The continues to be of the statue of the “Segavecchia” after the fire.

ITALY. Cotignola, Emilia-Romagna. Autumn 2019. Aqueduct.

“When I actually started working on the task, I didn’t really have a direction in mind, ” he or she explains. “I was simply in love with my new scenario, with my new existence, with walking in the country and discovering a new entire world. ” But a story unfolded with every photograph he took – the story of a wounded community united by heritage, identity and, most importantly, love.

Scalandrê is published by Cesura, an Italian picture collective and publishing home founded in 2008, based in Piacenza. “When I joined up with the Cesura collective, I actually suddenly understood the importance of residing in a small community, connected to the months, to the land, ” says Zanella, who’s originally from Parma, Emilia-Romagna’s second biggest city. “But Cesura is also where my passion designed for photography became an obsession. ” It was 2011, as well as the collective’s co-founder and Magnum photographer Alex Majoli has been hosting a masterclass at Cesura. Zanella enrolled in his class, describing it as “a week that changed the life”. With a degree through Istituto Tecnico Statale Leonardo da Vinci and a technical background in metal carpentry, Zanella’s outlook on life had been pragmatic. But meeting Majoli changed everything, he describes of the Italian photographer, known for his documentation of war and conflict, and for whom the human condition is central to his work. “Majoli taught me how to view the world differently, ” he admits that.

Zanella started working since Majoli’s studio assistant. “He taught me to break the protective barriers I had positioned between me and the outside world, ” says Zanella, thereby giving him the impetus to explore Italy’s rich heritage through his lens. While at Cesura, Zanella fulfilled the Dutch-Iranian artist, curator and photobook editor Daria Birang, who years later on nominated him for British Journal of Photography ’s 2017 Ones to Watch. Birang said associated with Zanella in BJP : “He utilizes the camera to better understand the world around him, and also to connect… he feels extremely deeply about people. ”

ITALY. Cotignola, Emilia-Romagna. Summer 2019. Mariani’s country house. Enea and Romeo struggling in the pool for fun. © Marco Zanella.

…to read more about Marco Zanella’s Scalandrê, head to the BJP shop to purchase the latest concern, themed Love.  

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Scalandrê is published by Cesura, priced €38. It is available now

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