Heavily loaded cars belonging to Tunisian immigrants gather in the port of Palermo, Sicily to board the ferry to Tunis. Their cars are stuffed full with second-hand products which will be sold at home.
After the economic crisis hit Europe, many immigrants lost their jobs. As a result, many of these unemployed immigrants decided to take up a business that spans the Mediterranean Sea, a business much like the one that their ancestors carried on for thousands of years.
Since ancient times, the populations living on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea have plied the Mediterranean basin, trying their best to sell goods to their neighbors.
The most famous of these early traders were the Phoenicians, who hailed from a region that is now in modern-day Lebanon. So prolific were they in those days that the North Star was then called the Phoenician Star. In 734 BCE, far-flung Phoenician sailors founded a trading post on a distant island. Their aim was to establish a port on the fair side of the sea to expand their trade. The Romans named it Panormus, which means “all port.” Today, it is known as Palermo.
On Saturdays in 2014, crowds of Tunisian immigrants gather to take a ferry to Tunis and continue the age-old practice of trade. Some of them are only going home to spend the holidays but others are professional sellers who go back and forth every week. Regardless, almost every single one of them will carry something to sell.
Despite the current EU legislation (restrictions) on immigration, the relationship between the populations that live on the Mediterranean Sea is alive and strong. Merchants and travelers meet each other as their ancestors did before them, contaminating the cultures they came from and go towards. For every Tunisian that regularly goes back and forth across the sea, the distance between peoples and cultures is lessened just a little bit.
In our era of globalization, when huge cargo ships whisk products from one corner of the world to another, this group of people keep alive the old routes. From rusty bicycles to dusty scooters. Old mattresses and beaten-up pieces of furniture. Stoves and other appliances. All are piled on the roofs of old cars and brought from port to port. Not pictured are the little bits of tradition and pieces of information that also make the trip, contributing to a common Mediterranean heritage.
Eugenio Grosso grew up in Sicily and from a young age was fascinated by images. Today, he considers himself a photojournalist and visual storyteller. Assistant editor Alexander Strecker reached out to him to find out more about the project.
When I was a teenager, I asked my mother for a camera as a birthday gift. That’s how it started. From the beginning, I loved how photographs had the power to turn banal moments into something beautiful.
With “Heavily Loaded,” I decided to not portray the people who drive the cars because the images I made were already filled with human presence. The story lay with the cars themselves. A single portrait would not have sufficed to tell the story of each driver so I preferred to focus on the objects, which gave a richer description. A small bicycle indicated a family, piles of furniture a salesman, and so on.
Although I am finished with this chapter of the story, working in Palermo definitely pushed me to think further about the interconnectedness of the Mediterranean. From each of my conversations with my subjects, I learned pieces of information that tipped me on how to move forward. Much like ancient times, the stories that these people carried proved to be the most inspiring part.
—Eugenio Grosso, interviewed by Alexander Strecker