Daily Picture Show

Photographers Focus On Italy's Unhappy Campania

There's an area of Southern Italy that the Romans dubbed "Campania Felix": happy country — lush, green and peaceful. But for documentarians Matt Nager and Ivana Corsale, the region is anything but that.

According to their film, Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country), toxic industrial waste has been illegally dumped on the land surrounding one of Italy's most fertile regions for the past 20 years. It has been buried, burned and secreted away from the people who depend on the land for their livelihood.

Nager and Corsale first read about the problem in the book Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano, which ties the illegal dumping to the Italian crime syndicate, "the Camorra." Salviano now has a permanent police escort for his protection from the mob.

Looking to explore the presumed health effects of toxic dumping on the people of Campania, the filmmakers spent 10 weeks in an Italian region dubbed "the triangle of death" — because of its high rates of cancer.

  • Mario Cannavacciuolo, a sheepherder, stands on his abandoned land outside Acerra, Italy. His family land has been destroyed by illegal toxic waste disposal and a nearby government-sponsored garbage incinerator. Cannavacciuolo's 3,000 sheep died from dioxin contamination. His brother Enzo died shortly after, and tests showed his body contained levels of dioxin and PCBs 30 times the amount allowe...
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    Mario Cannavacciuolo, a sheepherder, stands on his abandoned land outside Acerra, Italy. His family land has been destroyed by illegal toxic waste disposal and a nearby government-sponsored garbage incinerator. Cannavacciuolo's 3,000 sheep died from dioxin contamination. His brother Enzo died shortly after, and tests showed his body contained levels of dioxin and PCBs 30 times the amount allowed by the World Health Organization.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • A federally funded waste incinerator stands adjacent to Cannavacciuolo's land in the countryside outside Acerra.
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    A federally funded waste incinerator stands adjacent to Cannavacciuolo's land in the countryside outside Acerra.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • Bruna Gambardella lives in Saviano. She has experienced endometriosis and a weakened immune system due to high levels of PCBs in groundwater and produce. She has since turned to organic farms to avoid eating local produce and has noticed some relief from her symptoms and a rise in energy.
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    Bruna Gambardella lives in Saviano. She has experienced endometriosis and a weakened immune system due to high levels of PCBs in groundwater and produce. She has since turned to organic farms to avoid eating local produce and has noticed some relief from her symptoms and a rise in energy.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • Mount Vesuvius is seen beyond a natural quarry known to have been used as an illegal toxic waste dumping ground by Italian Mafia organizations. Once the waste is dumped, it is quickly absorbed into the region's groundwater and irrigation canals.
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    Mount Vesuvius is seen beyond a natural quarry known to have been used as an illegal toxic waste dumping ground by Italian Mafia organizations. Once the waste is dumped, it is quickly absorbed into the region's groundwater and irrigation canals.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • Genarro Esposito, an environmental activist, doctor, and member of a nonprofit organization called Doctors for the Environment, stands under a bridge where toxic waste has been buried. Esposito, who lives in Saviano, uncovers and documents waste sites and looks into health issues that result from contamination.
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    Genarro Esposito, an environmental activist, doctor, and member of a nonprofit organization called Doctors for the Environment, stands under a bridge where toxic waste has been buried. Esposito, who lives in Saviano, uncovers and documents waste sites and looks into health issues that result from contamination.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • Piles of illegally disposed-of televisions, computers, trash and containers of toxic chemicals lie abandoned next to an irrigation canal for local farms near Marigliano. Piles of urban waste can be found throughout the provinces of Naples and Caserta.
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    Piles of illegally disposed-of televisions, computers, trash and containers of toxic chemicals lie abandoned next to an irrigation canal for local farms near Marigliano. Piles of urban waste can be found throughout the provinces of Naples and Caserta.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • Francesco Cipolletta, an agent with Corpo Forestale dello Stato, the federal forestry department, stands in the countryside between Nola and Marigliano. The agency is in charge of documenting illegal waste disposal and securing found waste sites. These sites often take years to be cleaned up and disposed of because of bureaucratic holdups.
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    Francesco Cipolletta, an agent with Corpo Forestale dello Stato, the federal forestry department, stands in the countryside between Nola and Marigliano. The agency is in charge of documenting illegal waste disposal and securing found waste sites. These sites often take years to be cleaned up and disposed of because of bureaucratic holdups.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • The historical irrigation canal Vasca San Sossio no longer transports water, as it has been plugged with concrete to prevent the spread of toxic waste caused by illegal dumping. The canals, which were created by the Bourbons in the 1700s, brought clean water from Mount Somma to the fertile agricultural towns outside Naples.
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    The historical irrigation canal Vasca San Sossio no longer transports water, as it has been plugged with concrete to prevent the spread of toxic waste caused by illegal dumping. The canals, which were created by the Bourbons in the 1700s, brought clean water from Mount Somma to the fertile agricultural towns outside Naples.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • Alessandro Cannavacciuolo sits with piles of newspaper clippings and other papers documenting his family's struggles with illegal toxic waste disposal on their farm in Acerra.
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    Alessandro Cannavacciuolo sits with piles of newspaper clippings and other papers documenting his family's struggles with illegal toxic waste disposal on their farm in Acerra.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • An emaciated goat walks the Cannavacciuolos' field. The Cannavacciuolo family no longer earns money off the land, which has been in the family for generations. The goat died two days after this picture was taken.
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    An emaciated goat walks the Cannavacciuolos' field. The Cannavacciuolo family no longer earns money off the land, which has been in the family for generations. The goat died two days after this picture was taken.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • Giuseppe Esposito, a local organic farmer and former police officer, grows his own organic food on his farm in Marigliano. He condemns the continuation of waste disposal in the land around his city.
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    Giuseppe Esposito, a local organic farmer and former police officer, grows his own organic food on his farm in Marigliano. He condemns the continuation of waste disposal in the land around his city.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • Plants and lichens grow on the incredibly fertile flow plane of Mount Vesuvius' most recent eruption, which occurred in March 1944. Nutrients delivered by volcanic eruptions to the agricultural land surrounding Mount Vesuvius have made the Campania region of Southern Italy home to some of the most fertile soil in all of Europe.
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    Plants and lichens grow on the incredibly fertile flow plane of Mount Vesuvius' most recent eruption, which occurred in March 1944. Nutrients delivered by volcanic eruptions to the agricultural land surrounding Mount Vesuvius have made the Campania region of Southern Italy home to some of the most fertile soil in all of Europe.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • Antonella Devastato sits outside an apartment complex in Marigliano. Devastato is an activist who has voiced her opinions and organized community members to speak out against the rising health and environmental concerns facing the city. She has been afflicted with a pituitary microadenoma, or tumor in the pituitary gland, which many women in the area have experienced.
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    Antonella Devastato sits outside an apartment complex in Marigliano. Devastato is an activist who has voiced her opinions and organized community members to speak out against the rising health and environmental concerns facing the city. She has been afflicted with a pituitary microadenoma, or tumor in the pituitary gland, which many women in the area have experienced.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • Broken pieces of old building material containing asbestos and toxic chemicals lie abandoned under a bridge near Acerra. Once the asbestos is broken into small pieces it is easily absorbed into the ground, entering water streams and other irrigation canals.
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    Broken pieces of old building material containing asbestos and toxic chemicals lie abandoned under a bridge near Acerra. Once the asbestos is broken into small pieces it is easily absorbed into the ground, entering water streams and other irrigation canals.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • Antonio Marfella, an oncologist, is the leading doctor currently testing people with health issues coming from the countryside outside Naples. Recent cutbacks in funding have delayed future testing, dramatically illustrating the struggles linking the rise in health issues with illegal waste disposal.
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    Antonio Marfella, an oncologist, is the leading doctor currently testing people with health issues coming from the countryside outside Naples. Recent cutbacks in funding have delayed future testing, dramatically illustrating the struggles linking the rise in health issues with illegal waste disposal.
    All photos by Matt Nager
  • A black tarp covers a pile of toxic waste to prevent the spread of chemicals on an abandoned farm in Calbricito, near Acerra. This waste is unlikely to be removed or treated to lessen toxicity levels because the area has been deemed "secure" by government officials. Surrounding farms have seen a drop in the quality of their produce.
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    A black tarp covers a pile of toxic waste to prevent the spread of chemicals on an abandoned farm in Calbricito, near Acerra. This waste is unlikely to be removed or treated to lessen toxicity levels because the area has been deemed "secure" by government officials. Surrounding farms have seen a drop in the quality of their produce.
    All photos by Matt Nager

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Corsale, who is from southern Italy, directed, produced and edited the film, while Nager worked as the photographer and videographer. The images of the people and the region are startling: dying sheep, piles of trash in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius and, according to the filmmakers, a population hounded by weakened immune systems, dioxin poisoning, birth defects and cancer.

"The situation doesn't look bright for the area," Nager says. "What was shocking to me was that this had become the norm for these people. They would drive by and look at us like we were weird for filming burning trash."

Nager and Corsale are working to show the film at various film festivals around the United States and Europe. They will soon be relocating to Denver, where they will continue to pursue documentary projects.

A pile of illegally disposed clothing scraps from a local tailoring company lies abandoned next to a farm near Marigliano, Italy. Piles of urban waste can be found throughout the provinces of Naples and Caserta. i i

hide captionA pile of illegally disposed clothing scraps from a local tailoring company lies abandoned next to a farm near Marigliano, Italy. Piles of urban waste can be found throughout the provinces of Naples and Caserta.

Courtesy of Matt Nager
A pile of illegally disposed clothing scraps from a local tailoring company lies abandoned next to a farm near Marigliano, Italy. Piles of urban waste can be found throughout the provinces of Naples and Caserta.

A pile of illegally disposed clothing scraps from a local tailoring company lies abandoned next to a farm near Marigliano, Italy. Piles of urban waste can be found throughout the provinces of Naples and Caserta.

Courtesy of Matt Nager

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