– 2nd January 2017

Marta Giaccone

The USW graduate photographer documenting the lasting impact of centuries-old utopian thinking

To become a documentary photographer after studying literature may seem like a bold career change, yet Turin-based Marta Giaccone had always wanted to explore the field further after being fascinated by her father’s experiences as a photojournalist. And so it was that she moved to Newport in 2013 to learn her trade at the University of South Wales, where she developed a practice orientated around long term planning, research and understanding, a process that lends itself exceptionally well to documentary photography and one that has stood her in good stead since graduating.

Here, we’re sharing Marta’s series Systems of Harmony, a sublime “portrait of 2016 suburban America” that examines towns and villages formerly established by preachers, reformers and philosophers as small utopian communities. After researching how these societies had been conceptualised and built, Marta travelled to the areas themselves, perceptively documenting how they have changed 150 years on. Unsurprisingly, each community was originally created in response to the dissatisfactory lives experienced by its founders, and with her camera, Marta was able to  “portray a country in a very critical — and dystopian — moment in its history”.

Spurned on by Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis and Thomas More’s Utopia, throughout her travels Marta followed her interests in relationships, family and youth to examine what life is like in places founded on such idealistic mentalities. By focussing on former utopias, she was able to capture the ephemeral nature not only of these ideologies but also of the motivation to act upon them, doing so with great sensitivity; while some of the places she visited still have some connection to their past, often “only one or two people” knew the story of their surroundings. In today’s world, of course, there is still utopian thinking, though Systems of Harmony is testament to the fact that such idealism does not always endure.

Marta will be telling the stories of her Systems of Harmony subjects over on our Instagram account this week, so do make sure to head on over to hear more about these once-paradisal enclaves.


USA / Texas / Dallas / May 2016. Love Insurance. ©Marta Giaccone

Systems of Harmony

USA / Illinois / Chicago / May 2016. Mothers Day. Behind, the old Clock Tower and Factory. Pullman, a neighborhood in the south side of Chicago, was the first model planned industrial community in the U.S. Industrialist George Pullman, who made expensive sleeping cars for trains, purchased land on the outskirts of the city in 1880 in order to build a new factory and a miniature town around it for the wellbeing of its workers. The town featured Victorian architecture and even a man-made lake. For the fist years it was a success, even used as an exhibit at the Chicago World's Fair, and regularly won awards for being one of the best places to live in the U.S. By 1885 less than half of the employees were American-born, but African-Americans were not allowed to live on the premises. But George Pullman ran the town as a despot: he banned certain businesses to open nearby, such as saloons; forbade the town to start an independent newspaper; regularly had inspectors search through employees' homes for signs of damage or uncleanliness. Employees could not protect themselves since the town and all its structures were owned by Pullman. When he lowered the wages in 1894 a large-scale protest had to be broken up by the military. The government looked into the legality of the town and deemed it "un-American". It was then dismantled and annexed to the city of Chicago. The neighborhood never recovered its identity as a company town, as employees moved to newer areas nearby. ©Marta Giaccone

Systems of Harmony

USA / Illinois / May 2016. A shed along the Illinois bank of the Mississippi River across from Keokuk, Iowa. ©Marta Giaccone

Systems of Harmony

USA / CT / Hartford / April 2016. Sign outside Immanuel Congregational Church. Hartfort was once home to Coltsville, now a national historic park. Inventor and industrialist Samuel Colt (1814-1862), inspired by what he had seen in London in 1851, embarked upon an extremely bold real estate development campain. His intention was to build an industrial community to house his workers adjacent to the Colt Armory. By 1856 Coltsville was a city within a city where workers of many nationalities and religions worked, lived and recreated. He wanted to encourage immigrants to come to the U.S. specifically to work in his factory so he constructed a blue dome inspired by Russian architecture and a row of Swiss-inspired chalets (pictured here). The area was built up into a utopian communiy with the goal of making his workers feel at home in their new country. Colt died in 1862. In 1864 a major fire destroyed the armory, including the blue dome, and his wife had everything rebuilt. The community continued to thrive under her guidance. She died in 1904 and willed the estate to the city of Hartford. ©Marta Giaccone

Systems of Harmony

USA / New York / Oneida / April 2016. This small town was once home to the Perfectionists of the Oneida Community (1848-1880). They were seeking to create a Heaven on Earth, believing men weren't supposed to be repenting and concentrating on not sinning but instead they should search for their own bit of personal perfection. Their founder John Humphrey Noyes thought the Second Coming had already happened back when Christ's immediate disciples were still alive and what was left was for mankind to achieve a harmonious sort of perfect life on Earth. The Perfectionists believed in a communal family structure of individuals of all ages living and working together in spiritual harmony. All material property was shared and children were raised communally. They rejected the conventional ideas of marriage as selfish; instead they created the “complex marriage” where bonds of love and sex should be free to exist and develop through “male continence”. In order to grow their community they wanted to breed new generations, rather than recruit new members, through a practice called stirpiculture, where the most spiritually advanced members would be encouraged to procreate in order to produce superior offspring, Noyes himself having a priority in this process. ©Marta Giaccone

Systems of Harmony

USA / Iowa / Iowa City / May 2016. Ronald Yoder and his 14 year-old son Kendall of Kalona, Iowa, at the bus station in Iowa City. ©Marta Giaccone

Systems of Harmony

USA / CT / West Hartford / April 2016. Adali and Marcos in Elizabeth Park. ©Marta Giaccone

Systems of Harmony

USA / Ohio / Utopia / May 2016. Utopia is made up of a few houses, and about 30 inhabitants, along the Ohio River. It's a very desolate place. When I asked Willie Franklin, who has run Utopia's only Village Market and gas pump for 34 years with his wife Ursula, if anyone ever passes by, he said "Yes, a few people during the summer. People come here to camp along the river. I'm the only one who sells gas and food supplies within miles." Utopia was founded in 1844 by followers of the French philosopher Charles Fourier (1772-1837). Fourierism, based on utopian socialism and the idea of equal sharing of investments in money and labour, reached peak popularity in the United States from about 1824 until 1846. The experimental community of Utopia dissolved in 1846 due to lack of fiancial success and disenchantment wth Fourierism. John Wattles, leader of a society of spiritualists, puchased the land and brought his followers. The spiritualists, who sought secluded areas to practice their religion, built a two-storey brick house and later moved it brick by brick to the river's edge despite warnings from the locals. A flash flood on December 13, 1847, drove most of the inhabitants to seek shelter in the town hall, being the only solid building, and almost all drowned or died of hypothermia. The settlement was then bought and re-organized by American anarchist Josiah Warren as an individualist anarchist colony. By 1850 the community had 40 buildings, about half of which were of industrial nature. But the rising prices of surrounding land that made expansion difficult and the strict requirement of being invited by the original settlers led to the eventual dissolution of the colony in 1856. ©Marta Giaccone

Systems of Harmony

USA / Indiana / New Harmony / May 2016. New Harmony, formerly Harmony, was the second community founded by George Rapp and his followers, called the Rappites, Harmonites or Harmonists. Rapp (1757-1847) was a German Pietist preacher who was banned and persecuted after splitting with the Lutheran Church. This led him to move to America and create the Harmony Society, a Christian commune that lasted a hundred years (1805-1906). The Harmonites believed Christ would return in their lifetime and so the purpose of the community was to be worthy of Him in preparation for this moment. They viewed unmarried celibate life as superior to marriage, based on Rapp’s belief that God had originally created Adam as a dual being, having male and female sexual organs. When the female portion of Adam separated to form Eve, disharmony followed, but one could attempt to regain harmony and purify oneself for the upcoming Millennium through celibacy. The Harmonite communes ultimately failed because the policy of celibacy prevented new members from within. Harmony was purchased by Welsh social reformer Robert Owen (1771-1858) in 1826 and renamed New Harmony. Owen was an industrialist with an entrepreneurial spirit, management skill and progressive moral views. After a trial period of two years the project of a model working community failed due to lack of individual sovereignty and private property. This, along with other causes, led to the development of American Individualist Anarchism. New Harmony became known for advances in education and scientific research. Its residents established the first free library and a public school system open to men and women. It's the westernmost settlement in Indiana. ©Marta Giaccone

Systems of Harmony

USA / North Carolina / Charlotte / June 2016. Frances, 87, outside the Matthews Murkland Presbyterian Church. She's lived her whole life around the block. ©Marta Giaccone

Systems of Harmony

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