This is what seven years of documentary photography looks like

Italian documentary photographer Mattia Insolera didn’t plan on spending seven years on his first photo book when he set sail from Italy in 2007 with a friend bent on crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

But after abandoning the trip upon their landing in the Strait of Gibraltar, Insolera soon found his calling in the culture of the Mediterranean Sea, a world of smugglers, migrants, sailors and ports.

That first taste was enough for him to move from his hometown of Bologna to Barcelona and travel to 13 different countries to document Mediterranean life.

All that work has resulted in a successful Indiegogo campaign to fund “6th Continent,” his loving tribute to the people who still devote their lives to working the Mediterranean.

“6th Continent” was released online and in Spanish bookstores last month.

Insolera chose to photograph the ancient sea-going culture of the Mediterranean, as opposed to places well trodden by tourists or wars and conflicts that have defined life in parts of the region in recent years.

“I focused on those who still use the sea as surface transport, work environment, swap space, who still lives on the sea as a Sixth Continent. What remains of this Mediterranean is a sense of resignation and fatalism, as if the Mediterranean itself with all its inhabitants had been trapped in the weight of its own history,” Insolera said in the Bologna Courier.

Documenting the “sixth continent” took Insolera far: he traveled a total of more than 15,000 miles by motorbike and hitched rides on any boat willing to take him.

The result is a beautifully contrasted look at the face of the modern shipping industry and traditional fishing cultures of the Mediterranean Sea. Insolera’s photos are incredibly dynamic, almost cinematic, creating at times a sense of dread and despair, and other times hope and awe.

In a story on Italian news site The New City, Insolera described the Mediterranean as a place that seems to only retain its importance “as a trade route for traffic that comes from elsewhere … and (is) sensitive (to) the current conflicts and to migratory flows that result.”

He suggests creating multiple “macro-Mediterranean regions to promote common policies on the environment, fishing (and) goods traffic, involving countries that do not belong to the European Union and the Mediterranean.”

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Kevin Hume
Kevin is a photojournalist finishing a masters degree at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. Last summer he was a photo intern at the San Francisco Chronicle.

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