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The Continuity of Man
a portrait of the Mediterranean region

“The Mediterranean is a thousand things at the same time. Not just a landscape, but countless landscapes. Not just a sea, but a string of seas. Not just a civilisation, but many civilisations... The Mediterranean is an age-old crossroads. For thousands of years, everything has converged on this sea, disturbing and enriching its history.” (Fernand Braudel)

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The shores of the Mediterranean are a beaten path. For ages the Med is being sailed, traded upon, fought for. Civilisations have risen and disappeared continuously. The period of Classical Antiquity saw the rise of Phoenicians and Greeks, Romans and Persians. Their struggles all centered on the great sea in the ‘Middle of the Earth’, hence the name Mediterranean. The Romans were the first and only to control the complete coastline and install a political unity. They called it ‘Mare Nostrum’, Our Sea. From the shores of the Mediterranean, culture and civilization spread out, molding mankind to its present state.

I initiated ‘The Continuity of Man’ in 2010. In november 2014, after 20 journeys and 18 months of travelling abroad, the project was launched at the Museum of Photography. The book 'Mediterranean. The Continuity of Man', published by Hannibal, is available in the bookshop.

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The project

“All our religion, almost all our law,  almost all our arts, almost all that sets us above savages, has come to us from the shores of the Mediterranean.” (Dr Samuel Johnson)

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The Mediterranean is more than history and geography. Although the Med appears to be a geographical unity, culturally, politically, socially and naturally spoken, the region is extremely diverse. Therefore my photographic representation is not limited to one single topic, but comprises a multitude of themes and approaches. It shows the Mediterranean region in all its startling diversity, in all its contrasts. Monaco and Gaza are both situated on the shores of the same sea.

The Mediterranean region often hits the headlines these days. The eurocrisis in southern Europe, the Arab spring, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, the unverifiable influx of immigrants in Europe, are just some tendencies that determines the region’s zeitgeist. Although ‘The Continuity of Man’ is not intended to be a journalistic body of work, traces of these evolutions and events emerge throughout the documentary.

‘The Continuity of Man’ highlights the following themes to a greater or lesser extend:

The impact of mass tourism and urbanisation on the natural landscape

Due to the interference of land and sea, coastal areas are unique natural and cultural environments. However, pressure on the natural beauty of the Mediterranean area is rapidly increasing. One of the main causes of the environmental decay is mass tourism, which turned up in Spain, Greece and Croatia in the sixties. Today the Med is the most popular tourist destination in the world. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 25,000 km out of 46,000 km of coastline has been urbanised.

The origin of three major religions: The sea as a crossroads of cultures

Sailors are sensitive to superstition and symbolism. The Eastern basin of the Med is the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity. The Arabs introduced islam in the seventh century. Navigation, for the use of trade, conquests or war, effected an efficient exchange of manners and customs, and the dispersion of the three big monotheist religions.

Migration: The sea as a barrier

Migrations are of all times. Without migration, cross-pollination of civilisations around the Mediterranean Sea would not have been possible. In the current globalised world, psychological distances have grown shorter and easier to bridge. Due to migration, trade and tourism international contacts have increased.

Conflict and territorium

Many grim and legendary battles have been fought in the Mediterranean region throughout history. Wars often had imperialistic and strategic causes, such as the preservation of colonies or the control upon trade routes. The crusaders introduced the ideological-religious war in the 11th century. More recent conflicts, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Turkish invasion of North-Cyprus, the civil wars in Lebanon and the Balkans still have repercussions today. New wars in Libya and Syria emerged while working on this project.

Economy and navigation

The history of the Med is inextricably linked to navigation. The Phoenicians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Venetians could only become powerfull thanks to their acces to the sea, their maritime capacities and the size of their fleet. Although only 0,7% of the world’s sea surface, the Mediterranean Sea stands for 30% of worldwide maritime trading transport. It is one of the busiest  transit zones for oil and containertransport in the world, and of particular strategic importance for both the US and the EU.