photos of Xylella destroying olive trees in Italy

The insects belonging to the Rhynchota families like the Cicada (pictured) or the Cercopoidea, are believed to be the vectors of the disease of xylella.  They feed on contaminated xylem sap contracting the bacteria which is then transmitted to the next tree.  desde

The insects belonging to the Rhynchota families like the Cicada (pictured) or the Cercopoidea, are believed to be the vectors of the disease of xylella. They feed on contaminated xylem sap contracting the bacteria which is then transmitted to the next tree. From “Fastidiosa,” published by Overlapse, 2022. (Jean-Marc Caimi + Valentina Piccinni)

Like most of my colleagues, I receive a lot of emails from photographers who want me to look at their work. I love this part of my job. I’m always interested in seeing new work. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes not. That’s just the way it works.

Every now and then, I receive an email with work that really piques my interest. This is what happened in the case of photographers Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni and their book about the plant pathogen Xylella, which is wreaking havoc on Italy’s olive trees.

The photographers, who work as a duo, had been sending me work from Ukraine. But I wasn’t in a position to assign work there. But their work was very intriguing. It’s bold and really grabs your attention.

I let Caimi and Piccinni know I wasn’t assigning photography in Ukraine, but I do look at work from other projects, including books. To my surprise, they asked if I wanted to take a look at their latest book. The answer was an indubitable “Yes!” I was not entirely prepared for what would eventually end up in my mailbox when “Fastidiosa” (Overlapse, 2022) arrived.

Their photographs are bold and stark. But something else hit me from the book: it’s an intensely emotional story of devastating losses caused by this epidemic devastating Italy’s olive trees.

In addition to the power of the photos, the book itself is immaculately put together (courtesy of Tiffany Jones, the publisher of Overlapse), lending it gravitas. Everything from the printing of the images to the multiple paper stocks used and the sequencing all work together to intensify the emotions of the story.

As art over the years has shown us, there can be intense beauty found in the most devastating circumstances. Sometimes the beauty emphasizes the darkness. Instead of beauty, you might call it eloquence. And this book is eloquent.

“Fastidiosa” weaves together a multitude of experiences — from portraits of the affected farmers, to what look like scientific close ups of Xylella’s carriers to craft a vivid account of this dark chapter being lived out.

Interspersed in between the evidentiary photos are family photos along with quotes from the people directly affected by this destructive pathogen This is where the emotional gut punch really comes from. Take the following quotes for example:

“Remember: the Lord, as He made heaven and Earth, is capable of ending everything, and we remain in the dark”—Rocco, 82, peasant

“I see dark times for the future of the countryside. Imaging going up a hill or onto the roof of a house, you see everything green with olive groves, millions of olive trees. Now think of the Sierra Madre and the valleys of the grand canyon…There will be nothing left.”—Vito, 56, farmer

But “Fastidiosa” doesn’t leave you in complete despair. It talks about efforts underway to help mitigate the heavy loss faced by the farmers and their families.

For example, the book lets us know agronomists and scientists are working to find solutions by taking shoots from trees still thriving in affected areas and then grafting them to even more productive trees. The hope is this will help develop a “super tree” that can withstand Xylella.

The key word here is “hope.” Despite devastation and loss, hope remains. It’s one of our more curious characteristics as humans to try and find solutions when the odds are stacked against us. Whether one is stuck in the middle of a plant pandemic, or surrounded by the detritus of war, hope is the thing that needs to be cultivated. And so Caimmi and Piccini’s book is not just about plants, but about all of us here on this earth.

You can see more of Caimmi and Piccini’s work on their website, here. And you can buy the book, here.

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