Sleeper alert: one of this fall’s biggest indie hits could be a gorgeous photography book on the slow food movement in Italy. Welcome Books won’t release Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town, a $50 hardcover by photographer Douglas Gayeton, until next month, but it has already gone back for a second printing, bringing the total to 25,000 copies. Slow is an oversized hardcover featuring 75 sepia toned images and eight gatefolds depicting people, places and food in Pistoia, Tuscany, with an introduction by Alice Waters. The project began as a PBS Web series, grew into an art exhibition, and is now Welcome’s lead title for fall.
In 2003, PBS and its documentary program P.O.V. commissioned Gayeton—a multimedia artist, documentary filmmaker and co-owner of Laloo’s Goat’s Milk Ice Cream in Petaluma, Calif.—to document Italy’s Slow Food movement. Gayeton focused on the lives of people—bakers, butchers, chocolate makers, fishermen, mushroom hunters, sheep farmers, winemakers—from the town of Pistoia, about 18 miles northwest of Florence. The project didn’t wind up as a film, but rather a Web-based series of photos with narratives overlaid, called My Shoes Are Caked with Mud, which PBS ran as part of its Borders series. It won a Webby Award for best broadband site of 2004. The photos were then featured at Slow Food Nation, the Slow Food movement’s first ever event in the U.S., which took place in San Francisco last September. During the three day-long event, more than 85,000 people passed through the exhibit.
Over the course of the years Gayeton spent photographing Pistoia’s townspeople, he realized that while most Italians didn’t know what "Slow Food" was, their lives exemplified the principles that define it, through activities like gathering eggs, carefully hanging salamis in a row to dry and assembling around a table to share a meal. As Gayeton looked at his prints, he scribbled notes directly on the photographs, thinking they would help remind him of things he had seen or heard. Slow’s images include etched information about the subjects and traditional sayings, such as “When a pope dies they make another” (figuratively translated to “there are other fish in the sea”). The book’s recipes are more accent than centerpiece: a photograph of the kitchen at Da’Mauro, a trattoria famous for its cannellini beans cooked in a wood-burning oven, is framed with a very basic written recipe for the beans; an extremely cursory recipe for a chocolate Easter egg is written around a photo of chocolatier Roberto in Laboratorio di Catinari, where he works; a recipe for pecorino cheese, which surrounds a photo of sheep, begins, “1) Milk your sheep.”
Like Welcome’s big book of ’08, The Oxford Project by Stephen G Bloom, Slow is tied to a photography exhibition. A nationally traveling exhibition ran in Reno, Nev., from April to July 2009. A show opens in Petaluma on September 25 and will travel through California, as well as to Portland, Ore., Ann Arbor, Mich., New York City and elsewhere. In April 2010 it will open at the Museo Italo Americano at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.
Publisher Lena Tabori said her expectations for the book are “huge,” noting that Gayeton “is the first to use imagery and text to express the philosophy of Alice Waters, Carlo Petrini, Michael Pollen, Wendell Berry, Robby Kenner and so many other slow food champions.... The book is elegant, intellectually rich, visually experimental and innovative.” Slow fits in with two of Welcome’s 2008 hits, The Oxford Project and American Farmer. The house has promoted all three books locally, and Tabori called them all “complex, fascinating books [with] human truths at their heart. This is what we want to do at Welcome. Books that tell the truth, speak with integrity and come from passion.”
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.