Like a lot of things in Italy coal is made by hand. A short walk from Nikki’s Nonna’s house in a remote town in the South of Italy is a group of hard-working locals doing this day in and day out.
It was my first trip to Nikki’s hometown and after she mentioned a group of local people who make coal the old fashion way, by slowly burning massive piles of timber, I had to know more. We jumped in the rusty 4x4 and drove through paddocks and under a massive canopy of trees to where they were working.
Stress levels were high as they have to work quickly making sure the temperature and the rate at which the timber burns is monitored. They were under-staffed and being one man down meant that they had to keep a very close eye on the multiple fires they had burning so as to not ruin the coal. It was also about 40 degrees and we were in between two very flammable paddocks that stretched for as far as they eye could see.
I had to shoot some portraits and I had to get them all sitting down in a designated spot with a huge wood stack in the background. Shots of them working were not doing it for me and their faces all smeared with coal was what I wanted to shoot.
Convincing them all to have their photo taken (like most Italians) was easy but taking them one by one away from the fire to get the shot was very hard. The boss was yelling, the fire was roaring and I had about 2 seconds to get each portrait shot on an old Hasselblad camera without a light meter before they ran back to the fire.
Everyone was covered in coal from head to toe. You could see all of their frown lines pronounced by the contrast made by black dustings on their faces. You could see where they had adjusted their hats, touched their faces, scratched their arms and tucked in their shirts. These guys were some of the toughest workers I had ever seen. However no-one was tougher than the lovely woman of the team who was keeping the men highly caffeinated throughout the day with trays of espressos made close by. She would disappear into the thick smoke with a tray of 10 coffees then walk out seconds later with empty plastic cups. She was keeping this operation going.
Every night when Nonna cooks over the fire at home I always think of these faces and how hard they work for their living. The coal workers of Southern Italy are one example of why Pt. Nemo is made in Italy. There is a sense of tradition, passion and dedication that goes into everything the Italians do, things are done well, with real skill by people who take absolute pride in their work and their role in representing their country. Italians are not motivated by gratitude or recognition, simply knowing that they have done a hard days work and have done their work to the highest possible standard. This is something we want to both support and celebrate through Pt. Nemo with our team.