Davide Degano’s Beyond the Land of Castles pays tribute to local mountain communities threatened by globalisation

The documentary series captures life in the “forgotten” villages around the Italian and Slovenian borders, as a depiction of emigration and depopulation, and an exploration of the photographer’s heritage.

22 October 2020

Photographer Davide Degano grew up in Friuli, a region of northern Italy that borders Slovenia, and remembers listening to his grandfather Giuseppe’s stories about being captured by German troops. Giuseppe escaped, and walked back home from Germany. “I can still feel, through his memory, the strong sense of belonging to the place when he described the happiness to see again those mountains from far,” Davide says. It’s this feeling, and what the area represents to Davide and its inhabitants that is the subject of his photo documentary series, Beyond the Land of Castles. Through searing portraits, beautiful landscapes and details, Davide captures what he calls the “forgotten” mountain villages near the Italian and Slovenian borders and, in turn, explores local communities threatened by globalisation.

“It’s an examination of the importance of ‘local’ through memory,” Davide explains of the project, “and how modern society neutralises it in the name of globalisation. I believe it is a universal story. It’s a story of power, who has it and decides what development should look like, and who doesn’t have it, and never will. Societies took centuries to form, globalisation took two decades to almost destroy them.”

In the project he rediscovers his own cultural heritage, portraying different facets of the place and its people. Along the way he says he came across a community of survivors and emigrants that imposed a self-exile after the World Wars and the 1976 earthquake, “in order to chase that ‘wealth’ promised by the upcoming industrialised cities”. Through documenting them as they exist now, he wants the series to make people “reflect on the importance of the values on which our memories are based upon, in order to shake the assumptions that memories bring nostalgia not progress,” he says. Most of the time, media interest centres on a place when big corporations are involved, he says, meanwhile some cultures and traditions “are about to disappear because of a lack of interest”.

One image shows the first quarry of Piasentina stone discovered in the area, and how the landscape has changed over 40 years as a result of massive emigration. Another shows letters from locals forced to migrate to Argentina, as development efforts were directed towards cities. “They were my grandparents’ friends and in their writings, they just talk about their nostalgia and willingness to come back. They would never return though,” Davide says.


Davide Degano: Beyond the Land of Castles (© Davide Degano, 2020)

Another standout portrait shows local resident Igor looking out of his window thoughtfully as Davide asked him whether or not he missed the days in which the mountain community was bigger and stronger. “The portraits in this project are really special and close to me as all the people knew my grandparents,” Davide says. “Every time I was portraying a person, they would come up with some anecdotes about them, things that not even my father knew. It was a formative experience that allows me to understand even better part of my roots and heritage. For me, this is what photography is about. Telling stories that people can relate to but, at the same time, the stories need to be somehow connected with your heritage as it allows you to grow not only as a storyteller but as a human.”

Davide himself emigrated after high school to Australia and began a career as a commercial photographer before feeling this need to “learn how to tell stories through images, without limiting my practice to the single shot”. So he moved to The Netherlands to study photography and storytelling at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, from which he just graduated. He aims to simplicity in his shots, often staged to eliminate anything in the background “that say too much or nothing at all”. He takes a documentarian approach where dialogue is an important part of the process, shooting mainly on analogue – medium or large format – because the screen of a digital camera usually “becomes the protagonist” when it’s present.

His cites influences in the American street photographers of the 70s and 80s, and Alec Soth, Gianpaolo Arena and Federico Clavarino, and Yann Gross’s books The Jungle Book and Aya, which have provided much inspiration while making Beyond the Land of Castles into a photobook. But, Davide attributes much of his ethos to one book: Interrogations by Donald Weber. “Before, I was mainly interested in making and composing nice pictures. After I got Interrogations, I was fascinated by the narrative possibilities that the medium of photography had to offer. I believe that visual narratives have a strong power that many times cannot be conveyed in a written text.”

GalleryDavide Degano: Beyond the Land of Castles (© Davide Degano, 2020)

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Davide Degano: Beyond the Land of Castles (© Davide Degano, 2020)

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Jenny Brewer

After five years as It’s Nice That’s news editor, Jenny (she/her) became online editor in June 2021, now overseeing the website’s daily editorial output. Contact her with stories, pitches and tips relating to the creative industries on jb@itsnicethat.com.

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