Scars of the trenches in Paola De Pietri’s “To Face”

We always have our ear to ground when it comes to great photobooks being published by international photographers. Paola De Pietri quickly piqued our interest! the Italian artist has a knack for making heavily researched documentary projects fluid, expressive, and elegant. Like her work? Check out Project Basho’s upcoming workshop “Faces and Places in Tuscany, Italy.” Run by famed photographer Andrea Modica, the workshop will feature a visit with De Pietri in her home country.

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Paola De Pietri’s “To Face” is a collection of color images taken along the former front line of battle (the Alps and Prealps between Italy and Austria) during World War I. Her pictures are sparse and textured, quiet observations of the scars of history smoothed out by time.

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Monte Fior, Italy. Image courtesy of Paola De Pietri.

World War I saw the introduction of trench warfare, a completely new and utterly destructive means of combat. Battles took place at higher altitudes than ever imagined possible, made even worse by unpredictable environments and conditions. The daily life of the soldiers stuck in these deadlocks was mundane and maddening, a form of torture almost as punishing as the fighting itself. The landscapes occupied by the trenches suffered the effects of constant shelling, bombing, and abuse. In De Pietri’s book we see this terrain a century later; some remnants of carnage remain while others recede into the rock and grass.

The destruction of man and natures reclamation is a theme that persists in her photographs. The land acts as epidermis, growing and changing as the years pass yet retaining traces of shaping experiences. The sites vary from craggy mountain peaks to dimly lit caves and dense forests, each beautiful and imposing in their isolation. There are no descriptions or elaborations next to the images in the book, the viewers’ imagination allowed to wander and imagine what eerie or devastating events may have unfolded there.

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Pal Piccolo, Italy. Image courtesy of Paola De Pietri.

De Pietri grew up in Italy to memories of the war passed on in school and through family members. The visceral experiences of the generation that grew up with the war are in danger of fading, meriting the completion of “To Face” after a great deal of research. The scale of the book is fairly large, making the landscapes seem almost mythical in their depth and aura. The colors are all muted and subtlety is a chief component of its allure. Mist and fog are also present in many of the hills and valleys, a force of nature creeping into the frame to cloud and obscure the eye and mind.

The title of the book implies both confrontation and the act of looking. In these images we are forced to be visually aware of the intricacies of our environments and confront the realities of the effects of humans on nature and one another. It also carries the duality of being a photojournalistic endeavor that comes across as expressive and deeply aesthetic. These pictures were made in a fraction of a second yet hold memories of a far greater period of time.

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Forte Verle, Italy. Image courtesy of Paola De Pietri.

De Pietri shows the ghosts of history through a reflective and meditative lens. As is often best, she says much about a monumental subject by concentrating on very specific elements; a hole in the rock, a cut in the earth or a tree blown apart. These stick in our memories as steadfast reminders of what we should not let slip away.

Discover this storied landscape with our workshop in Italy
ONWARD/Project Basho are delighted to offer a unique one-week workshop entitled Faces & Places in Tuscany, taught by Andrea Modica, in the heart of Italy. A limited number of students will be given the opportunity to explore one of the most complex phenomenons of all: the human form in relation to its environment. Paola De Pietri will visit the workshop to offer insights into her own work and on photographing in her native Italy, an experienced guide to getting the most out of a journey to this ancient landscape of innovation.
Explore the Tuscan countryside »

ONWARD and Project Basho are based in Philadelphia, PA, providing useful resources for photographers of all walks of life–from Grant Writing Tips to Getting Gallery Shows and exciting international workshops. ONWARD also provides educational opportunities for photographers like the Global Mentorship Program, a year-long course geared towards the completion of a long-term project. Want to get more updates about the photography world? Join the ONWARD community!