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Mountain realism. Hunting for “Volti d’alpeggio”

Away mist, away from the stream,
skim its water and take its glistening tears with you.
Then fly mist, fly over the firs and spin your silk between its needles.
Run mist, run northwards and take man's sadness with you.
Then climb mist, climb the mountain;
and may all worry vanish with you up there.(1)


This is one of the lovely Walser poems which, together with prayers and popular songs (in Italian, German and the Titsch language), can be found in the photographic book by Lorenzo Di Nozzi “Valsesia. Volti d’alpeggio”.

The black and white photos – an effective choice of colour to enhance the pureness of the shapes – are also the poetic expression of everyday life which the author has dedicated to the people of the Alpine pastures around Alagna Valsesia and Riva Valdobbia. It is a priceless book, testimonial of the modern way of life in the Alpine pastures, far removed from any rhetorical expedient, a photographic record of the present. However the past is somehow part of the present and is revealed in the old faces of the Alpine folk, even though their clothes, especially those of the younger generation, are a definite nod to modern day. Their faces are clearly the faces of “mountain folk” par excellence, an Alemannian people who settled in the pastures around Monte Rosa in the 12th - 13th century after one of the most significant transalpine migrations.

«The Alpine pastures are the beating heart of the Alpine culture» writes Lucia Bonesio, lecturer in Geophilosophy, «[…] a widespread and extraordinary monument not only of dedication, work, constructive and environmental wisdom, but more importantly an expression and guarantee of that mutual identity - the landscape - the result of the incessant collaboration between man and nature […]». The “heart of the Alpine culture” is captured in the faces photographed by Lorenzo Di Nozzi, images that are so much more than just documents but which speak of the land: the beauty of the countryside combined with the tough mountain life of the people who had to settle at such high altitude, pushing survival to the very limit.

Not only is photography a way of seeing something, but in expert hands it becomes a way of listening and showing us what is around us, conveying the deepest of feelings which touch all the senses and prompt the reader to turn back to the faces he has just seen.

Lorenzo Di Nozzi is a stills photographer and divides him time between Spain and Lago d’Orta. He is currently the official photographer of the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona and the International Jazz Festival of Barcelona. It seems a huge leap to go from the theatrical stage to the mountain stage. «Well, they really are two very distant worlds» confirms Di Nozzi, «nevertheless I have discovered they actually have many things in common: I have always tried to enter the Alpine pastures as I do the theatre, on my tip toes, trying not to interfere with that harmony, that balance you breathe there. Looking at the photos now, I see I have tried to recreate the same light I work with in the theatre. I only used natural light in the pastures but the contrasts and the soft effect of the light are the same you find on the stage».

Di Nozzi grew up in Valsesia where his father taught him to love the mountains and, in particular, Monte Rosa. «I owe so much to these mountains and their people. It was a chance for me to give something back, although I must admit that this project has been so rewarding on a human level that I now feel even more indebted. During my journey in this world» continues Di Nozzi, «I was lucky enough to meet a whole host of extraordinary people and experience moving episodes which will always be close to my heart. I have listened to as many stories as I have taken photos. Difficult stories, tales of sacrifice and hardship, but also of love, selflessness and dedication». Throughout the 20th century, the number of Walser communities shrank dramatically and their traditional economy and cultural heritage was prematurely depleted. «When I embarked on this project, I thought the world I was going to explore was on its last legs. And, to tell you the truth, they are having a hard time of it» Lorenzo Di Nozzi states but he goes on to say: «But there are lots of young people, shepherds' sons who have chosen to follow in their fathers' footsteps or who have returned to the mountains after a disappointing experience in the city. These youngsters give us hope». The publication of Di Nozzi's book coincided with another happy event in his family, the birth of his first child, Romeo. His thoughts go to his son: «I dearly wish that one day he will be as privileged as me to be able to experience these worlds. I am a born optimist and I believe that not only will he get this chance, but that the world will be a better place to live in. A world where men will have realised that we have to go back to Mother Earth and that we need each other if we are to survive. Sharing, that is the word that will be our salvation and it is a word that still echoes in the Alpine pastures, like in so many smaller places». Then he adds: «The world as we know it is over, it's gone. We have hit rock bottom and are ready to rise again, to create a new world. We have learnt from our experiences and our mistakes and are ready to turn back to nature with graciousness and respect. It's time to go home!»

- Valsesia. Volti d’alpeggio, foto di Lorenzo Di Nozzi, a cura di Paola Riccardi, 99 foto b/n, 120 pp, ril. 21x29.7, 2012. Il volume è acquistabile sul sito
(1) Poesia di Anna Maria Bacher, tratta dal suo libro “Wê im ä Tröim - Vecchie e nuove poesie”, Ed. Walservereinigung Graubünden

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