When he travels to the city of Naples, Julien Mauve is struck by the sense of something smoldering that can be felt everywhere without being really visible: the tacit threat of volcanoes that can suddenly spit out enormous quantities of lava and engulf the ever growing number of homes in the gulf. There’s Mount Vesuvius, of course, which looms next to the city, but also the lesser known Phlegrean Fields, a volcanic area about 9 kilometers out of Naples. The supervolcano is active and could potentially affect the entire region with violent and sudden eruptions.
“There are several aspects about this particular subject that interested me,” explains Julien Mauve, “the scientific aspect, the religious aspect and the political aspect.” And so the photographer immersed himself in the subtle and volatile spirit that floats in the Bay of Naples— a mixture of hopes and fears, scientific findings and human uncertainty. “For example, there is a religious holiday in September that consists in predicting whether or not the volcanoes will wake up,” says Julien Mauve, who chose to title his series Il Miracolo (“The Miracle”).
“These volcanoes are both a threat and a blessing,” he goes on to say before adding that “the people of the Gulf of Naples have learned to live with them.” So the photographer went to various places marked by the evanescent presence of volcanoes, such as this restaurant where a painting depicts an ancient volcanic eruption; this place of prayer where people gather at the foot of a statue; and these scientific images taken in a volcano observation post, a control room that Julien Mauve managed to gain access to.
Sometimes it’s the face of a local that we come across in this photographic series, like this man with an intense look in his face who wears a T-shirt with the word “Napoli” and who says that this volcano business has mainly to do with the human perception we give it. “This is what I like about this subject,” explains Julien Mauve, “the contemporary dimension. The fact that this is an environmental issue that raises social and philosophical questions.”
With their dark, ashy tones, these photographs have an aesthetic that perfectly evokes the gray matter of volcanoes, almost as if a layer of ash had landed on them at the click of the photographer’s camera. They are a perpetual reminder that a threat hangs over this place but that it nevertheless takes on a kind of spectral beauty.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin