Off the coast of Italy, adrift in a sea of blue, an island of politics and parable rises from the caldera of a now extinct volcano. Its complexity provides the perfect canvas for Australian-born, Berlin-based, Italian photographer—Max D’Orsogna.
The mythology of Ponza was born in the shallows of Grotto della Maga, the postulate home of Circe, the evil sorceress of Homer’s Odyssey. Throughout history it has been a place of refuge and exile: In 39 AD Nero Caesar was banished and beheaded there, the island would later become a holding camp for disgraced members of the Roman Army, and after the collapse of Fascism in Italy—for Mussolini himself.
The crystalline waters have captured a new generation of consciousness through film. The Tyrrhenian Sea immortalized in the documentary work of French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, and the island itself as the home of the enigmatic red-beanie-clad Steve Zissou, from Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic. Today, Ponza is a destination for those in search of an Italy unspoilt by the golden age of moneyed tourists.
“The island is a quaint, romantic reminder of the Italy I had left in search of.”
Photographer Max D’Orsogna is one of those people. Intrigued by mythological draw of the island, he escaped the darkness of a Berlin winter to capture the story of Ponza on film. Max explains: “The island is a quaint, romantic reminder of the Italy I had left in search of. Arriving by night on a ferry towards the end of the summer-season, radiant pastel buildings clustered the harbour and I was struck by the sense of calm that seemed to prevail over the island; the tourists that flood the Amalfi Coast to the south nowhere to be found.”
“In its smells, its coastlines and weather systems, Ponza represented to me the mythos and possibility of the quintessential Mediterranean island.”
His series explore the landscape of Ponza with a discerning eye and sunbleached primary colors: vast white cliffs, light dappled ocean, silhouettes of empty hotels, and shadows at play across an empty harbor. Despite this natural beauty, the picturesque island is frequented by few holidaying internationals. For Max, this was all part of the appeal: “The deeper I dug, the more fascinated I became by the place—it was amazing to think somewhere so physically beautiful and steeped in history could have remained relatively unknown into the 21st century. In its smells, its coastlines and weather systems, Ponza represented to me the mythos and possibility of the quintessential Mediterranean island and it was this story—whether real or imagined—that I sought to tell with the images that I made there.”
Max grew up in a beachside town on the east coast of Australia, his art drew him to Berlin, and his heritage, to Ponza: “I’m originally from Byron Bay—a holiday town by the sea with a population that rises rapidly every time the mercury swells—so the decision to seek out a coastal escape from the climate of my adopted home in Berlin seemed a natural one. Growing up with Italian heritage I’ve long been captivated by my experiences traveling there, though beyond the obvious cultural powerhouses of Rome, Florence and Milan it’s always seemed to me that there lies another Italy—stubborn, wild and unchanged.”