In search of Cartier-Bresson in Basilicata
Four years ago, we visited the small city of Matera in southern Italy. It was just after Christmas and the hotel where we stayed was barely at fifty percent capacity. All of the other visitors were Italian. It had the feel of being on the outskirts, possibly forgotten in comparison to the other Italian hot-spots. But that was exactly why we wanted to visit Matera. Out of curiosity, I had asked my Italian teacher what he thought of going to Matera for a week. He said, “A WEEK?! For what? I’d go for a maximum of 2 days, there is nothing to do there.”
Against all sense and advice, we went and loved it. My grandmother was born in Ferrandina, only twenty minutes from Matera, so maybe the city is in my blood, but it is an extraordinary place. Unique in its architecture, food, and most of all, the people. I’ve made so many amazing friends there, I could not imagine life now without Matera. Fast forward four years and the city was awarded Unesco European Cultural Capital for 2019, there are now over twenty hotels when there used to be only two (about a decade ago), and the sassi are slowly coming to life again. While many people are strictly focused on Cuba as a before and after, there are still some major treasures to be found in Europe.
While I was there on my first trip, I was reading Assouline’s biography of Cartier-Bresson. HCB took a few trips through the region of Basilicata in the 1950′s and 1970′s. There were a few images from his series that stood out in my mind. One of them was of an odd set of stairs and an ecstatic little girl running up to his lens. Maybe it is my background in construction that led me to the staircases, but one day I found the exact stairs. Magnum Photo credits the picture as being taken in Pisticci. But this is not true, not that I care much about the caption. Magnum has millions of photos and far be it from me to start offering online corrections. I find it more compelling just to make the mini-discovery on my own by heading out for a walk with a camera.
On a recent trip back, I wanted to take a photograph before the place changed.
After World War II many of the families were forcibly moved out of the sassi (what is not the historical center.) By the 1970′s the sassi were all but abandoned. So the little girl in the picture could still be alive, but I have not found her yet. That will be part 2 of the saga.
Do you have any before and after pictures that you have discovered while traveling? Tell us about it below…