When professional cameraman and world traveler Michel Giaccaglia had to take a break from his itinerant schedule to care for his aging dog, he turned his lens towards home.
Three years in the making, his documentary, Wild Garden, focuses on the natural landscapes of his home region of Le Marche, Italy. The series captures the poetry and cruelty of nature in a collection of deceptively simple shots: a kestrel flying into the nest with a broken-necked sparrow to feed to its young; a pheasant flashing its red comb in a field in field of matching poppies; a wasp emerging from the tiny hexagon womb of its hive; a solitary fox waiting silently in the snow for its next meal.
“I have visited wonderful places in much of the world and love travel, but right here, where I grew up, is filled with its own natural wonders that I can experience every day and everywhere—even right in front of me through the kitchen window while I eat,” Giaccaglia said.
Each winter for several years, the photographer (who also shot nature and travel documentaries for Rai 3, one of Italy’s national public television channel) built a camera box next to a kestrel nest in the window of an abandoned house near his home. He was careful to install his simple gear—just a camera and lens protected with removable transparent film, and an overhanging frame—well in advance of spring nesting to avoid disrupting the birds. He used a remote shutter to capture the birds in their most intimate and natural states, then used a similar setup to photograph a family of owls that lives beneath the roof tiles of a country home he rents each summer.
Giaccaglia has long loved immersing himself in nature. He remarked that re-discovering the wildness of Le Marche took him back to his joyful solitary explorations of the countryside as a child. He recalled a drawing he made at the age of five of butterflies, flowers and meadows, upon which his mother wrote, “Michael goes camping alone.”
“I have kept the same faith and purpose of that happy child. While I’m (unfortunately) no longer a child, I am surely as happy now as I was then,” he said. “I am a professional photographer, but above all, photography is a passion. And because of that, I feel as though I have never really ‘worked’ a day in my life.”
Giaccaglia’s home village of Chiaravelle is a reclaimed swamp, founded about 1,000 years ago by Benedictine monks. It is known for its Romanesque abbey and is close to the region’s famous Sibillini mountains and national park, a place the photographer describes as “full of energy and wonderfully wild.”
“My series ’Wild Garden’,” he said, “is the discovery of the wild and abundant (yet often disregarded) nature we have at our fingertips every moment of the day. I’d like to just give a little more attention to what’s around us and learn to truly see, rather than just look.”
“Above all, photography is a passion. And because of that, I feel as though I have never really ‘worked’ a day in my life.”
The simplest moments are the most miraculous and deserving of a capture, he added, giving quotidian events the feeling of a high stakes, Jules Verne adventure: hawks hunting over ditches near the roads; ghostly deer slinking through the fog; the delicate singing of migrating hoopoe birds that arrive in Italian gardens each spring.
“These small events are the ones that bring joy to everyday life—the wonderful and neglected details, the emotional embroideries. It’s through these simple discoveries, the ones that are always right there before us that we too often fail to notice, that we can truly retain a sense of childlike wonder.”
— Gina Williams