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Gianni Berengo Gardin. Farming: a great civilization

Culture / -

Gianni Berengo Gardin per Expo Milano 2015
© Barbara Francoli

The internationally acclaimed photographer, Gianni Berengo Gardin, has worked for most important photo agencies. He emphasizes that he is not an artist, but a "witness of an era." He speaks about work, nature and ... food.

As a photographer, what is your view of reality: do you aim to interpret or document what you see?
I absolutely want my eyes not to interpret, but rather document. That said, occasionally and unintentionally, interpretation does slip out.

Forest green, the color of fruit, the variety of colors of meadows. How does the variety of the agricultural fabric, the consistency of the land, and different vegetation transfer into black and white?
Landscape for me is all black and white, but I worked so much in color when I worked for the Italian Touring Club and the De Agostini Geographic Institute. Some landscapes are at their most beautiful in color, others are more graphic in black and white.
What is the social value of photography? 
Its social value is its ability to document. In some cases it is important because we believe that something changes with a social photo, and yet it changes very little. Only through photographic work done in asylums was something changed: with the book I put together with Carla Cerati (ed  “Morire di classe”, Einaudi 1969), Basaglia presented the law in Parliament that imposed the closure of mental hospitals. By showing those photographs that no one had ever seen more or less before, we documented all the atrocities that occurred in asylums and we changed something.

You have interpreted changes in our times, and with your camera lens have been the witness of an era. With your reportage “Il racconto del riso” (The rice story) you tell the story of the agricultural world and the people who live there. And your photos of this agricultural environment range from the 60s to the present day, from decade to decade. What is it that fascinates you, captures your attention and your interest in this sector?
I have always considered farming a great civilization and so I have always documented it: I look with attention at people working and slaving: farmers, just like workers. Before doing "Il racconto del riso," I took ​​several photos, using the world of rice as my subject. I also photographed a number of agricultural museums in Italy. To produce the reportage I focused on the production of rice first, then on the crop, the sowing and the harvest, all the way to the industrial development of production and its treatment. In old farmhouses I documented environments, left as they were, where the weeders used to sleep, where children went to school: it was like a small town, with all its activities.

We know that you are in contact with Expo Milano 2015 to curate the photo exhibition of the Rice Cluster As selected photographer for this space, what is the story you are looking to tell?
I have already started making a selection of photographs. I want to illustrate the story of the actual cultivation of rice and then how farmers lived, what the landscape was like and finally the farmhouse, which is the most important place. Shots are drawn from “Il racconto del riso" and from previous collections.

Have you devoted time and shots to olive trees: what is their most fascinating aspect, in your opinion?
The olive tree is a beautiful tree and years ago I photographed the most important olive trees in Italy, including those which are not only, as you might suppose, in Liguria and Tuscany, but also in Umbria and Sardinia, where I found olive trees even a hundred years old. The olive tree fascinates me because it is a strong, robust plant but also graphically very beautiful and dramatic: there are olive trees that are linear and simple, but others that offer a completely different form.

Have you ever photographed a landscape, then come back to find it is no longer there?
There's a famous picture of mine, of Tuscany, near Siena: a road that is all curves. I came back years later and the landscape had gone. What once was a dirt track had been tarmacked over, the curves straightened out and a guard-rail, previously not there, added. All the plants that had been growing there had died off with the great frost of 1985. So yes, the landscape was changed. It no longer existed. The value of photography lies in documentation because the only thing that remains is this photograph as a document, not as art, of what was once an extraordinary Tuscan landscape. I always want to say: I am not an artist, I do not want to be taken for an artist. I am someone who documents, who recounts. I am a witness of my time, and I tell the story of the things that have disappeared or will disappear, but always in a documentary – and never artistic – vein.
What is your relationship with food? For example, do you cook?
I do not cook because I have a wife who cooks extraordinarily well. In fact she is also working on a cookbook that will be released soon, with stories about eating. I do not know how to cook, because the life of the photographer is made ​​of sandwiches and traveling. I like to stop and eat, but I can do it only occasionally, like all photographers.

Do you have a favorite dish?
It may seem a bit phony, but actually it is rice. I love rice in every way. My wife sometimes tells me, "Enough of all this rice. Eat a little pasta."

Feeding Knowledge awards 18 Best Practices from over 700 entries

Innovation / -

Degli oltre 700 progetti presentati, hanno vinto 18 Best Practice che migliorano la sicurezza alimentare
© Lisa Wiltse/Corbis

A total of 52 projects made it to the final selection stage of the Call for Best Practices for Sustainable Development, from the original 786 applications. Of these 52, 18 winners were selected, three more than initially planned.

The Call, which was launched by Expo 2015 in November 2013, closed on October 31, 2014. The evaluation of the 786 projects submitted in response to the Feeding Knowledge Call is now complete, with the judges having selected 18 winners. While these were supposed to be 15, due to the large number of submissions received and the high quality of the projects, the judges decided to commend an extra three: a very positive outcome indeed.
Evaluation of the Best Practice submissions involved several stages. An initial assessment of eligibility took into account three specified criteria. These were: completeness, relevance to the high priority topics for Feeding Knowledge, and the involvement in the implementation of the initiative of at least three partners.
The 749 projects that made the grade were then pre-judged by a committee made up of five working groups, one for each priority topic. These priority topics were: Sustainable management of natural resources, Improving the quality and quantity of agricultural productivity, Socio-economic dynamics and global markets, Sustainable development for small rural communities in marginalized areas, and Food consumption patterns: diet, environment, society, economy and health. Each group was led by a representative of the Scientific Committee for Expo.
The next step was to draw up a list based on the nine criteria required by the Call. These were: innovation, social impact, environmental impact, concreteness, transferability and replicability, openness, attractiveness, sustainability, and dissemination. From here, 52 Best Practices were submitted to the International Selection Committee (ISC). Two members of the ISC evaluated the remaining these 52 Best Practice projects and initiatives, supported by scientists of the Pre-assessment Committee, to produce a short-list that was then discussed during a plenary session, and a final decision taken.
The International judging panel - the International Selection Committee - chaired by Prince Albert II of Monaco, had the final word. They chose the 18 Best Practices considered as the most representative. The winning Best Practices will be presented in Pavilion Zero during the six-month exhibition. The Best Practice thought to be the most representative for each priority topic area will be featured in a short documentary produced by Expo 2015. The other 13 winning submissions will be illustrated by means of photostories.
The winners
In terms of geographical areas, seven projects were from Africa, six from Asia, three from America and two from Europe. The final outcome produced: five winners in Priority 1 (Sustainable management of natural resources), four winners in Priority 2 (Improving the quality and quantity of agricultural productivity), three winners in Priority 3 (Socio-economic dynamics and global markets), three winners in Priority 4 (Sustainable development for small rural communities in marginalized areas), three in Priority 5 (Food consumption patterns: diet, environment, society, economy and health).

Cambodia: poverty and development in the shadow of the temples

Sustainability / -

icei cambogia

The splendid monuments of Angkor Wat in Cambodia attract increasing numbers of tourists, but the surrounding countries are among the nation’s poorest. Right here an Italian NGO working for ten years is helping to increase agriculture and promote development of the territory.

Sotnikum and Puok are places unknown to most people and they are 100 kilometers from each other. Between them and growing by the day is Siem Reap, a city that serves as a base for almost all tourists heading towards the nearby temples of Angkor Wat, an UNESCO Heritage and planetary symbol of Cambodia and the whole of Southeast Asia.

In short, a river of tourists moves effortlessly among the obscure districts of Sotnikum and Puo. But it is a river with impermeable banks, because these lands absorb not even a drop of the wealth brought by visitors: Cambodia remains deep, backward and impoverished. A lack of health facilities and poor quality water are compounded by a limited knowledge of mechanisms for preventing diseases and infections. And added to the nightmares that seep from the madness of the Khmer Rouge and its bloody past is the risk of abandoned lands by young people, attracted to the city; where, however, for lack of alternatives, they are forced to take underpaid jobs or to live on their wits.

It is exactly between Sotnikum and Puok, in the province of Siem Reap, that the Roman NGO Progetto Continenti chose to intervene a decade ago, in cooperation with a local NGO, an indispensable partner for fitting into the local environment and for moving with respect for a complex culture: year after year, project after project, driving development.

In the dictionary of emergencies water and agriculture come before all others entries, and that's where the work began; digging wells, building dams, teaching people how to create and maintain new ones, essential for avoiding contamination and disease; building nurseries of fruit trees and distributing seeds, animals and tools for cultivation; training farmers in every village, then instructed to share their know-how to the rest of the population.

In the dictionary of development opportunities, after water and agriculture, comes handcrafts which here is made up mostly of silk production and weaving. These are the activities that Progetto Continenti has supported and revived to ensure an income also for young women, traditionally the weakest, in villages. About 40 girls were given access to laboratories and technical training to obtain microcredit to start up businesses. The goal is simple, yet ambitious: to put the rural population in a position to choose whether to remain in the country or emigrate to the city, where even here they would have a few more tools to avoid being relegated to the most menial jobs and be able to gain a real advantage from their encounter with tourists.

Over a million people are already #FoodConscious. What about you?

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