“In Italy, nuclear energy arouses fear; nobody wants a nuclear centre as a neighbour” writes Venetian photographer Andrea Pugiotto, discussing his series Vie chez la central, which translates as ‘Life in the (nuclear) centre’. This is not the case in neighbouring France, where the Bugey Nuclear Power Plant in the Saint-Vulbas commune attracts many who desire free energy, spacious, affordable housing and large gardens. The artist spoke with a local resident, who emphasised the convenience of this unconventional paradise: “we enjoy many privileges that the rest of the population can only dream of, and the risk is the same. Life is better, here”.
Armed with a stepladder, a tall tripod and his camera, the artist drove to Saint-Vulbas from his home in Italy with the intention of providing the viewer with a glimpse into everyday life in the shadow of a nuclear power plant. He constantly sought out those iconic yet ominous tall cooling towers that expel water vapour evaporated by the waste heat of the power plants; these became the backdrop for most of his images, which depict the everyday experienced by animals and people in their home environment. He stayed in Saint-Vulbas for just one week, acquainting himself with the area, talking with locals and shooting the reportage.
In his photographs we see scenes of the familiar juxtaposed with the menacing presence of the nuclear power stacks and cooling towers: the quintessential weekend leisurely day spent sunbathing in the garden or relaxing by the pool, children playing; there are cows which we know these people will exploit for their milk. The reflection of these towers in a man’s household mirror serves as a reminder of the proximity of the potential risk to the domestic sphere, which we usually consider a refuge.
The photographer strove to tell a visual story, “I wanted to take images that could speak out without any caption”, he emphasises—but there is no message or hidden truth revealed here. Rather than provide answers, the objective of this series is to pose questions.
All images © Andrea Pugiotto