Apulia was home to about 60 million olive trees, considered historical, economic and landscape heritage not only of this region but of the whole of Italy.
In recent years, however, the olive tree (Olea Europaea) has been the victim of the unfortunate Xylella Fastidiosa contagion, a phytopathogenic bacterium that affects plants from within, blocking their hydration and drying them to death. The infection spreads in olive groves through vector insects, such as the Philaenus Spumarius, which can transport the bacterium from one plant to another, promoting the transmission of the infection. After years it has been found that the only solution to eliminate Xylella is the removal of trees to create buffer zones where the vector cannot proliferate. Many specimens have been cut down to contain the rapid spread of the infection in healthy areas, but the slow implementation of this strategy has not stopped the growth of infected areas.
Besides the huge economic damage, the landscape heritage, which has characterized the Apulian territory for centuries, has been severely affected. The places where Stefano grew up could change drastically in the coming years, and many areas have already become something else that he no longer recognizes in his memories. Huge empty fields now extend for kilometers and give people the impression that they are in a dry and desert area of the African continent. These changes will also have serious consequences in other fields, such as tourism.
Stefano has thought a long time about possible future scenarios and he came to a reflection: the olive trees, peculiar elements of his homeland, may no longer occupy most of the territories as it has been until now.
For this reason, he felt the need to document the landscape that has been the background for most of his life. In 2018 he started to photograph the olive trees in the area where he grew up, Carovigno and its surroundings, an area initially not affected by the contagion, which came later. Stefano wanted to portray these living sculptures in their majesty, undisputed protagonists of the Apulian countryside. Among the many images he selected those that showed a widespread practice in these areas: piles of stones built by man are placed under some branches or trunks that risk breaking. The human intervention helps, in this way, to avoid the structural failure of the trees and to control their growth. Normally, as happens in architectural ruins, the vegetation re-appropriates the disused spaces and grows on them. In olive trees, otherwise, it is the work of man that comes to the aid of nature and creates a symbiosis between the natural and artificial elements.
This result clearly shows the love, respect, and sense of responsibility that local peasants have for olive trees, considered part of the family by their owners and who have been the most long-lived inhabitants of Apulian lands.
Stefano Gio Semeraro (b.1984) is a photographer and visual artist with a main interest on the transformation of the landscape and the relationship between nature and urban archeology.
After attending courses in Analog and Digital Photography and Visual Storytelling at CFP Bauer in Milan, he co-founded the CROP Collective which brings together independent photographers who conduct a meta-photographic reflection on nature and meaning of images.