David Loher

Social Anthropologist PhD

Transformation of Remote Rural Areas in the Alps

June 2018

We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.John Berger, ‘Ways of Seeing’

—Berger, John. 1990[1972]. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books.

This photographic long-term project documents the retreat of human presence from remote rural areas in the Alps. It studies the human/ non-human relationship in a landscape shaped by human labour for centuries. With a particular focus on the remains of non-agricultural activities, the project examines through image and text how various industries – and not only agriculture – have transformed these remote areas.

In the following picture, tools, machines, hoses, and ropes bear witness to human labour that shaped the landscape for centuries in an abandoned quarry in the Ossola Valley in Northern Piedmont (Italy). Scars of extraction of natural resources mark the quarried granite blocks and the bare rock alike.

Pictures: David Loher 2021

Forestry, hydropower, and quarries
In Villadossola, the steel mill SISMA employed up to 1.600 workers in its heydays after World War II. The company went bankrupt in 2014 following a long structural crisis of the Italian steel industry and a series of unsuccessful restructuring measures.
Source: www.archiviodelverbanocusioossola.com
(cc-by-nc-nd 4.0)
are characterstic for the Ossola Valley in Northern Piedmont (Italy), which is a main focus of this project. In the 20th Century – in particular after World War II and until the late 1980s – large industrial steelwork complexes and the chemical industry provided jobs for those who gave up agriculture. As a result, inhabitants abandoned the more remote hamlets, and the forest reclaimed the terraced pastures, vineyards, and chestnut groves over the years.

Simultaneously, the vacated spaces allow for new – experimental – forms of exploitation and cohabitation. This re-appropriation by newcomers has quite a long tradition in many remote areas of the Alps and typically occurs in cycles.

Transformation of Remote Rural Areas in the Alps - June 1, 2018 - David Loher