Photography Etna in eruption photographed by Emilio Messina
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Etna in eruption photographed by Emilio Messina

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Emanuele D'Angelo

Once it was supposed that in its meanders was hidden the Greek “world of the dead”, “the Tartarus”. In a version, without doubt, more romantic the Etna would be instead the daughter of two divinities, of the sky and the earth, Uranus and Gea and the mountain would represent therefore the fusion and the point of connection between the magmatic terrestrial center and the celestial blue.

There is also that in the heart of the mountain there is Enceladus, a giant defeated by Athena and buried under a huge mound of land that became the island of Sicily. It is told in fact that his body is under the island but with the head and the mouth under the Etna and that every cry of pain corresponds to an eruption.

The regular eruptions of the mountain, have made it an object of great interest for Greek and Roman mythology. But there are numerous events that are counted on the most active volcano in Europe that for days has been muttering and puffing above the sky of Catania at almost 3000 meters from the sea.

Lapilli, paroxysms and ash, with these three words we could summarize the last days of his majesty Etna. During these days the volcano continues to give the best of itself, under the watchful eye of its citizens who look at him beguiled.

Eruptions that in a short time have made the rounds of the world, even tonight it has given proof of its power and its grandeur with jets over a kilometer high.

Since 2013, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the people of Catania is a landmark, a way of life, something that you only have respect and not fear.
Although over the centuries it has also happened to have to deal with this firepower, enchanting and devastating.

A power that when it erupts calls many fans between its banks, looking for the perfect moment to immortalize because every eruption is different and is undoubtedly a unique event.

And we had the pleasure to exchange a few words with the author of these shots, Emilio Messina, a Sicilian photographer who explained the dynamics, techniques and movements of the volcano.

It is not easy to photograph such events, first of all, you have to be ready at any time of day, as evidenced by the last eruptions that arrived in the middle of the night. Then you absolutely have to know the strategic places, where you can best capture the phenomenon.

Emilio Messina is certainly not lacking in dynamics and techniques, and with the voice of someone who has seen a lot, he tells me about these turbulent days from his point of view during a pleasant phone call.

The photos are a summary of the activities of these last 6 days, in fact they were taken at different times. A reportage of each beginning of the eruption, always seen from different points from Zafferana to Viagrande.
We start from the first powerful explosion of February 16, from that day punctual almost like a Swiss watch Etna every 32 hours has given evidence of its strength.

Let’s say a bit ‘that as in the famous 1989 film directed by Peter Weir, “Carpe Diem”, you have to be able to seize the moment and be there at just the right time. A complex work, can you tell us a little bit about your secret, how do you manage to frame that show in a photo?

I was already there at 6 pm because I knew that something was going to move thanks to the reports of volcanologists with whom we are in contact. Then in general following the social channels of NGV or seismic bulletins you can see that Etna was preparing for some time.
I have also been a guide for some time, so I have also had the opportunity to deepen my studies and learn more about the mountains. Then I always keep everything ready, this is also the secret. Behind my door, I always have empty memory cards, a tripod, batteries and a camera. Over the years I have studied different points of view from where I can take the volcano with contexts around it. Who is from Catania knows the size of the volcano. But those who see these photos from the outside often do not understand the scope of the single scientific event and then I preferred to take photos often contextualized, for this reason, to understand well the size of the volcano and the villages that are around and below and to understand that we are just guests here.

Instead, getting into the technique of shooting, how do you capture those spectacular flows in all their brilliance and explosiveness?

There are different techniques for shooting, personally, over the years the one that has given me the best results is to take several shots at different exposures. Because to be able to catch the eruption with the lava fountains and the darkness around the villages with a single shot is almost impossible. Usually, if the shot includes the urban center, I take more pictures, almost 5, a technique known as bracketing to gain as much light and shadow as possible.

Finally, putting aside Etna and its eruptions, as a Catania native would you tell us what the volcano represents for you and how you live these naturalistic phenomena?

For me in general, like all the people of Catania, it represents a fixed point, a column in my life. What does it mean? It means that when in my life I have traveled, I have seen other countries in the world, it always happens that you look for Etna but obviously you don’t see it. It’s an automatic mechanism, you don’t even realize it at the beginning, obviously, then when you get used to it, you don’t pay attention to it anymore.
This is what Etna means to a Catanese, a point of reference, like those points that everyone has in their life, parents, brothers and sisters or certain friends, Etna for me is this, an important and imposing presence.
Then it is obvious that the volcano must be known to understand all its dynamics, each phenomenon is different from the other and certainly, Etna must be respected and not afraid. A phrase often repeated, means that it can make crazy eruptions like those we are seeing in which there is no danger. But let’s not forget that Etna is capable of lateral eruptions such as those of 1669 where the lava arrived in the heart of the city.
In short, by its nature, Etna is destructive but also generative of life, such as ash and lapilli fell in these days that are a wealth for the surrounding agricultural soils.

Photo credits: Emilio Messina

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Written by Emanuele D'Angelo
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