Photographing the Colonia di Rovegno: tips from Tim Brown

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of getting to know British photographer Tim Brown through our @visitaltavaltrebbia Instagram account and asked him if I could repost a picture he took in Rovegno a few years ago.

Here is the image that started our conversation:

On Tim’s website, I came across his great project called Totally Lost, which also features La Colonia di Rovegno, a place I know well from the many stories told by my grandfather.

Besides its controversial past, La Colonia is undoubtedly a historical landmark sadly rotting away in silence in the woods around Pietranera and Foppiano. Over the years, it has been heavily vandalised and left to its fate, its story being forgotten or ignored by the new generations.

With his work, Tim has been leading a “photographic and video research throughout Europe to discover, survey and map the abandoned architectural heritage of the Totalitarian Regimes of the 20th century in Europe”, which also brought him to several regions in Italy and specifically to Alta Val Trebbia.

I am always very happy and a bit surprised to hear about foreign visitors coming to the valley, as I think it’s a very hidden secret for tourists to discover, especially when coming from abroad and having to deal with transportation and language barriers.

To encourage more photography lovers to come and discover La Colonia, I asked Tim to share his experience and give a couple of tips to anyone interested in discovering this very special site.

My hope is that the echo of the centuries and peace inspired by this place will help make its story better known and spark a constructive discussion (in Italy but also abroad) about its historical value and what can be done to preserve it and restore it for future generations beyond all ideologies or political beliefs.

First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I have had various careers over the years, including geophysicist, computer programmer, and acupuncturist. However photography has always been an interest, along with a love of Italy and all things Italian. I decided to study for a Bachelors degree in photography in 2013, graduated with first class honours and went on to study for a Masters qualification. Both my final projects were based in Italy, one exploring the old colonie and the other in Rome. I am currently training to teach photography. When not in Italy, I live in Leeds in the UK.

Tim Brown, photographer and lover of all things Italian

When and how did you first get to know about La Colonia di Rovegno and what in particular made you want to visit it?

I first discovered some of the seaside Colonie along the Adriatic coast by accident and after having done some research I decided they would be the ideal subject for my photography degree project. I wanted to explore both coastal and mountain settings and spent a week based in Genova with the aim of exploring the coast and venturing inland to Rovegno and also Montemaggio.

What route did you take to arrive in Rovegno and what memories do you have of the journey itself?

I took the bus from Genova and can’t remember how close it got me but I spent a long time checking timetables there, and to ensure I could get back again at the end of the day. I particularly remember the clean, clear air, the views as I started to climb and the deep green of the forest.

Getting to Rovegno and the Colonia (courtesy of Tim Brown)

What are your main memories of Alta Val Trebbia and did you visit other villages besides Rovegno? 

My main memory is of the quiet and peacefulness of the area. Of my many visits and much walking during the course of the project, the trip to Rovegno stands out. I visited the lovely town of Bobbio on a separate occasion, that time travelling with a friend by car from near Milan.

What were your impressions of La Colonia during your visit?

I found it hard to imagine how it must have been when occupied, and the scale of the building felt  large and intimidating in relation to its purpose of accommodating children. However, the building is stunning, particularly in the way it rises out from amid the forest and in its use of elevations, angles and curves. Its use as a wartime prison adds another, sobering dimension to its history and feel.

An interior image of the Colonia di Rovegno photographed by Tim Brown

What tips would you give to other photography lovers who want to take a photo tour of La Colonia?

Take a tripod, I didn’t and wish that I had. Be prepared to spend time in and around the building, to get past the initial feeling of awe and in order to get to know and feel it.

“The building is stunning, particularly in the way it rises out from amid the forest”, says Tim.

Are there other places in Alta Val Trebbia you would like to photograph in the future?

I would like to spend more time exploring and walking in the area. I would have liked to visit Colonia Devoto too, though I think this is in a neighbouring valley, but I couldn’t find a feasible way of getting there and back.

Below  you can see more pictures taken by Tim on his visit:

For anyone wanting to know more about La Colonia, Tim shared the following links to current crowdfunding projects to preserve abandoned heritage sites in Italy.

Spazi Indecisi: http://www.spaziindecisi.it/space/colonia-rovegno/ 

Museo Diffuso dell’Abbandono: https://www.ideaginger.it/progetti/in-loco-il-museo-diffuso-dell-abbandono.html/

Note: the Colonia di Rovegno is an abandoned and decaying site, so if you do enter it will be at your own risk.

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