This location in northern Italy first opened for business prior to World War II, it had been a busy industrial distillery that produced ethanol based products for several different companies and industries, many of which were located close by. After World War II the demand for production had been greatly reduced due to heavy allied bombing across this entire industrial region. The plant then switched its focus to the production of alcohol for civil purposes (mainly the drinks industry) and by 1953 the plant was producing over thirty percent of Italy's entire alcohol product using ethanol fermentation to synthesise alcohol from sugar beets. The plant changed hands several times over the years but eventually closed in 2005 after a final financial blow came in the form of an EU directive that placed strict production quotas on Italy's refineries. It has been closed and left at the mercy of the elements ever since.
During April 2015 we made the decision to travel further afield than our thus far twice yearly trips across the channel to France and Belgium. We had seen some very promising images coming out of Italy from other photographers we knew, the country's architecture had a distinctive style all its own, but add to it the crumbling stonework and faded patina that abandonment brings and the resulting mix is nothing short of magical. The trip took in fourteen locations across five days with the morning of the third day taking us to a busy industrial district, packed with canals, rail tracks and chimneys belching clouds of carbon dioxide into the clear, pre-dawn, turquoise sky. The perimeter wall that surrounded this now derelict complex was a formidable and impassable barrier made from prefabricated slabs of concrete. We had heard there was a breach in this wall but were uncertain of its location and were concerned the entire complex would take a considerable amount of time to navigate. As luck would have it we made our way through the bushes that flanked the wall and found the hole within twenty seconds. Beyond the wall the complex spread out across a large area; rusting chemical storage tanks, office blocks, power plant, laboratories, gantries, pipe runs and in the centre of it all a large circular tower. Making our way between towers of rusting metal towards the tower, we were reminded to keep our wits about us as a deep hole in a metal walkway was soon discovered, partly covered over by long grass and creepers that had grown up in the years since the plant closed down. We also had no idea if there would be any on-site security patrols, so moved swiftly and stealthily whilst trying to remain safe was sometimes hard to reconcile. We had set our wake-up alarm in time to catch the sun breaking the horizon and the interior of the large tower was to be our main target; an imposing brutalist structure fabricated from massive sections of single cast concrete, dotted generously with windows all around its circumference that provided spectacular views across the rest of the plant, (granted that industrial plants don't always qualify as spectacular for some people). Entering the tower on the ground floor, we were able to look up between the floors and see right to the top of the building to its crane gantry and oculus style roof lantern.
The sun was still just below the horizon as we made our way up the metal stairs that linked each floor and, after travelling upwards to the third floor, we broke out the tripods in anticipation of the coming light show. Getting good light can make a world of difference to the final shot, 'beautiful light' is one of the first things another photographer will notice when viewing others images. But it has to be the right kind of light; there are two short windows of opportunity - from just before dawn extending to about an hour after and then for an hour before dusk. The sun is not too high in the sky and as such the light reaching you has to travel through more of the earth's atmosphere, effectively filtering the light and changing its colour temperature to a warmer hue. As the dawn broke, the interior of the tower was transformed, the drab concrete structure reflecting pools of glowing light all around us. It is moments like this that elevate these locations, making them comparable from an experience point of to with many world heritage sites. It may not hold an important place in history or have been the scene of a famous historical event, but the fact it is just you and the building allows you to connect with the environment in a way that is impossible when surrounded by hundreds or thousands of other people. We spent the next 60 minutes hurriedly shooting the tower from as many angles as we could, by then the sun had climbed higher in the cloudless dawn sky and the light was getting harsher - time to explore further afield. There was a fantastic view to be had from the roof of the tower across the surrounding industrialised zone, a view down on a collection of rusting chemical storage tanks that sat alongside the tower made for some interesting close up abstracts.
After the tower we spread out across the site and discovered the fermentation vats and chemistry labs, but we did not have enough time to do it all justice. On these European trips the next location usually entailed a drive of some distance and to achieve the number of pre-planned locations per day, calling time on a location was sometimes the only way to keep on schedule. As a result, the images are mainly of or taken from the tower.
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