Third Nature

Jan Stradtmann’s work Third Nature adopts a photographic approach to a historical incident, the Vajont dam disaster in Italy in 1963. After construction the dam reservoir was flooded and part of the mountain Monte Toc broke away, slipping into the reservoir on the Vajont River. Within a few minutes, the landslide caused a huge wave that swept over villages and towns along the river valley and many people lost their lives.

The dam itself remained undamaged. Geologists had warned in advance of the mountain’s instability, and the risk of a possible landslide was well known. Despite these warnings and some irregular practices during the application and planning process, the project went ahead.

Third Nature offers a visual archaeology of the event, combining contemporary landscapes, portraits and still life of found objects. The portraits of survivors’ descendants were photographed in domestic or urban environments in the city of Vajont, built about 50 km from the Vajont dam as a new home for survivors.

More than 50 years after the catastrophe, Stradtmann uses photography to document the current state of the site―the ‘how it is’ after the ‘how it was’―transforming the disaster into a metaphor for flawed decision making.

Third Nature references the Renaissance scholar Jacopo Bonfadio, who coined the term in the sixteenth century to capture the idea of a garden, distinguishing the artistically designed natural environment from wild nature. In the present context, the title refers to the geometric structure and symmetrical order of the model city of Vajont as projected on the drawing board.