Whether cloaked in thick moss and debris or almost entirely preserved, the abandoned churches photographed by Roman Robroek document the effects of a changing landscape. At least 1,000 of the religious spaces are left unoccupied in both small towns and cities throughout Italy and stand in varying degrees of disrepair. In visiting approximately 100 chapels for his series CHIESA, Robroek witnessed how the once-sacred structures have been left behind. “If a church, once the most important haven in the community, can become a pile of ruins, what does that say about what we hold certain today?” he asks in an essay.
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Robroek’s photos, which will be accompanied by drone footage by Sven van der Wal slated for release later this year, capture the beauty of disrepair: foliage grows from the rubble of a collapsed ceiling, a heavy layer of dust covers humble, wooden pews, and gilded trim and elaborately designed altars remain in pristine condition. The Netherlands-based photographer has broadly considered why a growing number of Italy’s churches, of which there are at least 20,000 throughout the country, are deserted. His reasonings include natural disasters, the long-standing effects of war, and cultural shifts. “Admittedly, it might seem incredible that such stunning, artful churches are in this state of decay, but it all connects to the same issues…the lack of community and the economic desolation of an area that has long past its prime,” he says.
Next month, Robroek will be traveling to Thailand to photograph abandoned structures, and you can follow his findings on Instagram. Until then, pick up a print in his shop, and check out his book Oblivian, which catalogs ten years of his practice and is available on Bookshop. (via Peta Pixel)