Max Pelagatti's profile
Le Bois des souvenirs
Le Bois des souvenirs: Marcinelle au-delà de la tragédie. 
The Wood of memories: Marcinelle beyond the tragedy.

The project is a tribute to the Italian miners' families who lived in Marcinelle (Belgium) during the ten years between 1946 and 1956. That period was marked by the bilateral agreements between the Belgian and Italian governments that prompted many families to leave their homeland to work in the Belgian coal mines. That emigration process came to an end with the disaster in the Bois du Cazier coal mine on 8 August 1956.

The images are inspired by the stories and memories of the women of Cesare Di Berardino's family. Cesare Di Berardino was an Italian miner from Manoppello in Abruzzo, who emigrated to Marcinelle in 1946.  He was a victim of the mining tragedy.

Max Pelagatti has worked for two years with Cesare Di Berardino's granddaughters to collect useful material for creating the project.
Each image created for the project reflects the process that memories undergo over time. Indeed, memories are rarely brought to mind intentionally; most of the time they are triggered by an everyday reminder (such as a smell, a flavour, an object belonging to childhood or youth...) in a random and unstructured way.

He has tried to represent the laborious and fragmented process of recollection through a series of images in order to present a set of historic and social memories of immense value. He has interpreted and transformed the stories and memories by overlapping the past and present and used a range of digital techniques to produce a series of surreal images that are nevertheless linked to events, places and objects from life in Belgium at that time.

Enrica Buccione (curator)
Sang de mon sang
In Di Berardino's family, memory has been transmitted from mother to daughters and then to grandsons since the men lost their lives in the mine when they were still very young. The stories and the memories of widows and female orphans represent a way to pass on the baton from one generation to another. New generations bear the marks of their family stories and have the duty and the responsibility to keep on telling them. The young woman in the picture is Benedetta, one of the granddaughters of Cesare Di Berardino.
The watch belonged to Santino Di Donato, brother in law of Cesare Di Berardino, and it was found together with his body a few days after the catastrophe of Marcinelle. The watch is still at the time of the fire. The landscape portrays the mountains of Abruzzo called Gran Sasso.
The picture recalls the voyage of many Italian miners that left their homeland with the hope of a better future without knowing their tragic destiny. The picture is also an invitation to keep memory alive, since it is in danger of falling apart as time goes by.
The picture is taken from an original portrait of 1946 and shows Antonietta, the wife of Cesare Di Berardino, with their first two daughters, Santina, the youngest, and Pia, the elder. On the back side of the picture Antonietta had written: “This is the picture I put on the passport. Antonietta sleeps, Pia cries and Santina is quiet”.
Portrait du migrant
Italian migrants directed to Belgium gathered at the station of Milan, where they underwent thorough medical examinations and controls by the police. Men left carrying with them just a cardboard suitcase; wives and children joined them at a later time, often after several months or even years.
Italian miners moving to Belgium with their families were granted an accommodation.
Indeed, the colliery provided them with shacks made of sheet metal originally built for English and American allies or for prisoners during the Second World War.
Plat du jour
“The coal used to feed us”, is the recurring phrase of Lucia during the interviews about her life in Marcinelle. She was the wife of Santino Di Donato and the sister in law of Cesare Di Berardino; both men died in the catastrophe.
Lucia, sister in law of Cesare Di Berardino, used to economize and send the saved money to her family in Italy. For example without her husband knowing she used to go with other women to the terril, an artificial hill made of coal residuals, to collect the coal which was still good to burn. Women kept aside at home the coal collected so that they didn't have to use the stock of coal granted from the colliery to each family. Sometimes Lucia sold the excess coal; the earned money was saved in an apple-shaped money box.
The rope was used from girls for their games and from women to hang out the laundry. Among the women of the Italian community in Marcinelle the roles were transmitted by teaching the household chores and the traditions typical of the female universe. Women were models of strength and courage; however education came more commonly from daily example and imitation than from explanations by adults.
In the shacks there was no bathroom; outside there were just cold and austere toilets made of wood. The whole family used to bathe in a tub where they poured the water previously heated on the stove.
Moments partagés
The community of Italian miners which lived between Rue Sart Saint Nicholas et Rue de Nalinnes in Marcinelle spent together a lot of joyful moments in their spare time. Each occasion was good to have parties, eat and drink in good company.
Terre natale
The image recalls Italy, the homeland which miners alone or with their family left full of hopes. They would have never left their land and dreamt to go back there one day. The picture is a tribute to the Italian Apennines. 
Bois des souvenirs
The excerpts of the book “La nostra Marcinelle. Voci al femminile”, written by Martina Buccione, granddaughter of Cesare Di Berardino, reveals the image of one of the woods surrounding Marcinelle and framing the stories of the women of Di Berardino's family.
Boule de neige
The “snowball”, or the viburnum opulus, is a shrub whose white flowers bloom in spring. The daughters of Cesare Di Berardino would remember dearly the beauty and the elegance of these flowers that used to decorate the flowerbeds and the gardens in Marcinelle.
The woman in the picture is Martina, granddaughter of Cesare Di Berardino.
The picture takes the cue from a childhood memory of Santina, the second daughter of Cesare Di Berardino. The woman remembers that her father used to buy a balloon for her when they went shopping at the department store in Charleroi. On the way back the balloon was often pulled from out of her hand and flew away. The picture is taken from an original portrait of that time and portrays Santina and her elder sister Pia.
Petite bouteille de lait
The picture is inspired by a childhood memory of Santina, the second daughter of Cesare Di Berardino. Every summer the children of the miners went to camp at Bois Marcelle. Each child got as snack a “couque au beurre” and a small bottle of milk. Santina tells that sometimes she and other children drunk just a few sips and emptied the rest of the bottle behind a tree.
Reine du bois
The daughters of Cesare Di Berardino tell that as little girls they had fun with other children playing the characters of the Belgian royal family. The children created mantels, robes and crowns with the objects they found at home or in the wood and wore them imaging to be kings, queens, princesses and knights.
The daughters of Cesare Di Berardino built toys with the objects they found on the street or at home. One of their favourite toy was the horse, built with a stick to which they tied rags to make the head. Cesare told to his daughters that horses pulled the wagons of coal in the colliery. Many of them lost their lives at the bottom of the mine.
Cesare Di Berardino told to his daughters that the miners brought with them a little cage with canaries. Those small birds were used to detect the presence of the firedamp, an odourless and colourless flammable gas which becomes explosive when combined in certain proportions with air. If canaries showed signs of suffocation that meant there was danger of life for the miners.
On the 8th of August 1956 the galleries of the colliery Bois du Cazier became dead-end streets. The crowd which had rushed behind the gate waited to receive some news about the trapped miners. People wondered with deep concern and kept on wondering for several years about the last life moments, the last thoughts and the vain and desperate efforts of the miners to save themselves.
The image recalls all the miners that lost their lives in the collieries: not only the victims of the tragedy of Marcinelle, but also the anonymous victims of the accidents and the illnesses caused by that tough work in the heart of earth.
Cesare Di Berardino dreamt about giving a better future to his own daughters. The catastrophe of Marcinelle undermined the life of his family and that of many others. However widows and orphans were able to recover after the tragedy; indeed they built new dreams and carried on with the burdensome process of social redemption which many men- heroes like Cesare- had undertaken after the war.
The miners of Bois du Cazier owned an identification medal, without which they couldn't descend into the mine and which indicated their presence at work. Some of the victims of the tragedy of Marcinelle were identified just by their medal. The number 034 belonged to Cesare Di Berardino.
In 2005 the President of the Italian Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, granted the victims' families the gold medal of civilian honour to the immortal memory of the 136 Italian miners.
The terril constitutes a distinguishing feature of the landscape around the mine sites. For example, the Bois du Cazier is surrounded by three terrils. They has been created over many years by the heap of coal waste and actually they present a great ecological diversity and richness. The transformation process of the terril over time witnesses how life can always revive even from the debris.
Flamme de la fierté
The picture emphasizes the role of the woman embodied by the widows and the female orphans of the dead miners in Marcinelle. The same women who entrusted the memories of their life in Belgium to the photographer. Beyond the grief they were able to receive and transmit with pride and dignity the inheritance of the values and the human sacrifice tied to the mining job and kept on “giving life to the life”. The woman in the picture is Enrica, granddaughter of Cesare Di Beradino. 
Le Bois des souvenirs

Le Bois des souvenirs

Photographic collection realized in occasion of the 60th anniversary of the tragedy of Marcinelle in Belgium. Based on the stories from the book Read More