Along two short alleys in Bari Vecchia in Puglia, Italy, generations of women sit at tables handcrafting orecchiette pasta. Flour, water, and salt have transformed family tradition into profitable businesses. Puglia native and photographer Valentina Piccinni captured portraits of the Pasta Divas, whose skill has been proudly and lovingly taught to each generation. Nat Geo Travel spoke with Piccinni, to learn more about her photo series.
Nat Geo Travel: Tell us about the project and how you came to photograph the Pasta Divas.
Valentina Piccinni: I am native to Puglia, Italy, and I left my hometown when I was quite young to follow my studies. This work is an homage to my land and to Bari, Italy—an emotional journey to my origins. It was enchanting to hobnob with the ladies, the Pasta Divas, [who are] keepers of an otherwise lost tradition, the craftsmanship of orecchiette pasta.
In Puglia, people have a strong agricultural tradition, and in Bari Vecchia—the old town of Bari—a dozen women are the clear bearers of the deep-rooted orecchiette tradition. There are two short alleys—Via dell’Arco Basso and Via dell’Arco Alto—where women of all ages sit in the street, outside their houses, making orecchiette like their mothers and grandmothers did.
N.G.T.: You have a particular style to your portraits—the photos feel simultaneously proud and somber. What tone did you want to convey?
V.P.: I have tried to be sober, keeping my visual concept through a recurrent composition, avoiding an excess of interpretation. My goal was to tell this unique tradition, intrigue the viewer, and convey the genuine—and [slightly] surreal—mood that is breathed in this short road.
N.G.T.: You mention that about a dozen women pass the skill of handmade orecchiette from generation to generation. How did you capture this tradition?
V.P.: It was not hard! Around the working desks, there were four generations involved in making orecchiette. It was very funny to see the hands of grandmothers marked by years of work close to those of the little granddaughters.
N.G.T.: Family tradition as business. These women often serve dual roles—head of household and business stewards. How do these dual roles impact the women’s standing in the community?
V.P.: These women take their handmade pasta seriously, because this is not just pasta, but their pride, and primarily, their job. There is, of course, a level of empowerment; in many cases they are the only ones to generate a family income. These women are an example of a homemade type of female entrepreneurship, created to support the economy of the entire family, often a large family.
For this reason, Pasta Divas command respect in the community; they are feisty women with strong personalities, tireless workers, and at the same time icons of a timeless tradition.
N.G.T.: What camera gear did you use?
V.P.: I used a Nikon D300 and a Nikkor 18-200mm lens.
See more of Valentina Piccinni’s photography here »