Giacomo d’Orlando was shortlisted in the ‘Sustainable Cities’ category of last year’s Environmental Photographer of the Year competition with his image that depicted Nemo’s Garden, an incredible alternative system of agriculture. For World Photography Day, he tells Jessica Miller the story behind his project and what the future holds…
Whilst stuck in Italy at the end of 2020 due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, environmental documentary photographer Giacomo d’Orlando was in search of a new climate change related story to document. Several weeks of research led him to the incredible untold story of Nemo’s Garden. An alternative system of agriculture for places where conditions make plant growth extremely difficult, such as in Noli, Italy. The entirely self-sustainable project makes underwater farming a viable eco-friendly solution to counteract climate change.
‘At the start of 2021, I contacted the Ocean Reef media team introducing myself and explaining my idea to document their work. They were really enthusiastic about the idea of doing a reportage which would cover all the phases of their project. We decided to collaborate together and document the story of Nemo’s Garden.
In response to increasing agricultural demands at a time where globally there is a growing crisis of desertification, Nemo’s Garden is the world’s first colony of underwater greenhouses for terrestrial plants. This completely self-sustainable project represents an alternative farming system dedicated to those areas where environmental or geo-morphological conditions make the growth of plants almost impossible.
The first hurdle was that I needed a diving certification to be able to document that garden. So I started the process by doing an open water course and taking my diving exams just 10 days before the first shoot in May 2021! At the beginning I wasn’t very confident with both body buoyancy and camera setting, but the more time I spent underwater, the more my confidence improved.
From May until September, I went back to Noli (where the Nemo’s Garden is settled) four times in order to photograph the various phases of the project. As well as the underwater shots of the garden, we chose to include the laboratory phases at Pisa University. For me the scientific achievements are a fundamental part of this project.
Looking back, I’m really satisfied by the end result of the project. It felt amazing to have built out really engaging reportage that can inform people about climate issues. But also offer a positive outlook of what a more climate-conscious future could be. Rather than simply creating a sense of resignation at the climate issues we face.’
Nemo’s Garden for Environmental Photographer of the Year
The potential opportunity to take such an important project to the grand stage of Environmental Photographer of the Year made entering the 2021 competition a simple choice for Giacomo. His submission included photographs from the documentary process shown within this article. ‘I decided to submit my photos to EPOTY because I felt that this was a great opportunity to showcase my work on an international stage, especially as last year’s photos were exhibited in conjunction with the COP26 conference in Glasgow. Furthermore, the high-profile sponsors such as Nikon, Ciwem and WaterBear played an important role in encouraging me to enter as their association made the competition trustworthy and even more attractive.
When I discovered that I had been shortlisted, I was very excited and happy about this achievement. I will also be participating in this year’s competition, which is open for entries until the 31st August at epoty.org, and hoping to build on last year’s achievements.’
‘My aim is to encourage people to understand the importance of our environment. My approach is to document the positive solutions that mankind is pursuing in order to stimulate a proactive debate on our future. Rather than simply documenting the impact of climate change on our planet, which could be counterproductive as it can generate such feelings of hopelessness, I hope to inspire people with a positive climate alternative vision for the future.’
Entering the world of environmental documentary
Photography has been an interest for d’Orlando since he was a child. With influences from his grandfather who was passionate about Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic documentaries. He has fond memories of watching them with his grandfather on TV, but d’Orlando’s passion for photography didn’t wake until he was 21 years old, when considering what he wanted to do with his life.
‘I realised that my dream was to travel, telling stories and at the same time enrich my soul. I wanted my job to do something inspiring for different people. So I decided I wanted to become a documentary photographer. With a bit of luck, I found my first job as a photographer assistant in an advertising studio in my city, Verona. There, I learnt all the techniques that have equipped me to work professionally in the photography world.
After almost four years of practice, I left my comfort zone and I decided to pursue my real passion. So I moved to Nepal in order to volunteer with a local NGO and begin my career as a photojournalist. From that point of my life, I have just followed my passion. Over the last few years, this has allowed me to live in many different countries and meet many interesting people who have opened new doors, permitting me to continue developing my photography.’
d’Orlando firmly believes that a big priority today is educating people about the importance of our environment. Which has led him into a career as a environmental documentary photographer. ‘I believe that photography is a very powerful tool which helps us to depict the world we are living in. Photography makes it possible to tell in the most engaging ways the hidden stories of our society, and at the same time raise awareness about the challenges of our time.
We are strictly connected to the environment but unfortunately we as humans have already exploited it too much. We have altered its equilibrium and we are close to reaching the breaking point which it will be impossible to come back from. Without a healthy environment, we are endangering all life on earth. I know I can’t change the world just as one person but, as a storyteller, I feel the responsibility to use my work to inspire positive actions aimed at preserving and protecting our planet.’
Following Nemo’s Garden
When it comes to future projects, d’Orlando has already made a start on the next story. ‘Since the start of 2022, I’ve been working on my first long-term project “Symbiosis”. This will probably take me four to five years to complete. The background of the project is the impact of climate change and anthropological stressors on the marine environment and coastal communities of the world.
I want to use “Symbiosis” to demonstrate the interconnections of climate change related phenomena. Such as coral bleaching, biodiversity loss, coastal erosion, sea level rise and ocean acidification. Then investigating how these affect the life of coastal communities. In order to stimulate a proactive debate without generating a feeling of surrender and despair, a central part of the project will be dedicated to the positive solutions that both local communities and scientific authorities are undertaking to preserve the health of the marine ecosystem for our future.
Through this project I want to highlight the fundamental role that oceans play in our life, inspiring stakeholders to increase positive actions aimed to preserve the marine environment for the generations to come – it feels like there’s an exciting few years ahead!’
Advice for photographers
‘The biggest advice I can give to other photographers is don’t give up and follow your dreams. I have been rejected hundreds of times and I will surely be rejected many times in the future. Personally I still have a long path in front of me to become what I dream. I’m probably just half way.
From my experience I can say: if you’re really determined and passionate in what you’re doing and if you really care about the stories you want to share with the world, do everything in your power to pursue them.’
Giacomo D’Orlando is a documentary photographer that tells stories about environmental issues. His work looks at how the increasing pressure brought about by climate change is reshaping the planet and how present day society is reacting to the new challenges that will characterise our future.
He has received prestigious awards, such as the Picture of the Year International 2022 in Science and Natural History. Won first place in the UN World Ocean Day Photo Contest 2022 in Nature Based Solution and Ocean Exploration category. Came third place in Sony World Photography Award’s Environmental Category in 2022.
His projects have been published on National Geographic, Washington Post, Stern Magazine, Der Spiegel, Paris Match, Geo France, El Paid, De Volkskrant, Mare Magazine. Among others and exhibited worldwide in photographic festivals and galleries.
See more of Giocomo’s work here:
Enter Environmental Photographer of the Year 2022
This year’s Environmental Photographer of the Year competition is open for entries until 31st August 2022. For more information, visit epoty.org
Need some inspiration for your entries? Check out last year’s winners.
See more photography competitions to enter here.