An Island of Memories

Poignant Photography Series Depicts Island Site of Former Concentration Camp

Pag, an Island off the coast of Croatia is notable for its sheer landscape of foreboding cliffs, brilliant limestone coast and lush blue seas. But this little gem holds some pretty dark secrets. Italian photographer Luca Tombolini’s latest series Landscape Studies: Matching the States of the Unconscious (series VII: Memoria, 2015, Croatia), captures both the majesty and the haunted memory of this awe-inspiring place.

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“I was driven there by the essentiality of the landscape,” recalls Luca. “It started like a puzzle. The blank page at the beginning was calm and serene, because that really is, unexpectedly, the feeling of those white limestone hills diving into the blue sea.” But Luca was soon to discover that the island had been the site of the Slana concentration camp, which saw the massacre of thousands during WWII.

“The paradox about this forgotten place is that 15km north, there is the party-and-drinking Zrce beach where thousands of youngsters gather during the summer. 1941 was the year of a massacre, 2015 it’s all forgotten in a beach party.”

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The experience moved Luca so much that he has opted to donate all of the proceeds of the series to the association of victims of the massacre.

We just had to find out more about this incredible story:

The Plus: Did you get a sense of the magnitude of what had happened there when you visited?
Luca Tombolini:
Nowadays there are very few remnants that testify to the presence of the camp but in the following days of my being there I started to put them together: a rocky road, some stone walls, a few traces of broken homes and lines of barracks walls. To cut a long story short the turning point was the night I found out news of the stories of the few survivors that described what happened there.
I strongly encourage for the understanding of this project to read them, even randomly, in this article. With the last piece of the puzzle falling into place it became an overwhelming experience. I was respectfully walking over the place, breathing quietly and staring into the void.

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TP: What did you hope to convey with your images?
My process of photographing implies contemplation, the Self, the Unconscious and perceived reality. I’ve found photography particularly efficient to make considerations about Time, either when it’s clearly stopping it, or on the contrary when it gives the impression of compressing time as if the moment pictured could have existed forever. The latter was the impression I’ve had when I first developed the shots of the early landscapes I did.

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TP: Were there any sticky or dangerous situations on the cliffs?
I wouldn’t consider it dangerous. Falling is not an option, especially on the peaks, and carrying the backpack with the equipment can be exhausting. Thirst, heat and the glare of white reflection don’t make it easy as well. But so you easily get an idea about the conditions in which inmates were kept; the place is absolutely unsuitable for living.

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TP: You are donating the proceeds of this series, can you tell us about that?
The experience I lived there was very strong. The brutality of what happened is inconceivable, and I seriously questioned myself whether photographing would be disrespectful to the victims memory. So I decided to donate the 100% of the profits to the victims association.

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TP: What will you be working on next?
As I write, I’m literally also packing for a two month lone trip to Iceland. It looks promising, so fingers crossed!

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