A Photographer Spent a Decade Documenting the Tobacco Industry’s Darkest Corners. The Result Is Both Stunning and Disturbing.
“I want to provide a way for people to…realize how smoking is not just detrimental to the final user.”
Photos by Rocco Rorandelli; Text by Mark MurrmannMay 31, 2019
A farmer's child in the Tobacco Board Periyapatna auction floor. In India, about 50000 children work in tobacco farms. During today's auction, tobacco prices range between 52 and 130 rupies/kg (1,1-2,8 US$/kg). When dealers and tobacco companies buy a tobacco stock from a farmer, he is given invoice and will be paid, directly in the bank, after 2 weeks. Only regularly licensed farmers can participate to the auctions. In this region, ITC usually purchases 50% of the auctioned tobacco, while the rest is sold to JPI and other big buyers.Rocco Rorandelli
Over the course of 10 years, Italian photographer Rocco Rorandelli traveled to nine countries active in the tobacco industry, documenting its impact on the environment and the economy, as well as on the health of smokers and workers. This massive investigative documentary project, supported in part by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, looks through the “smokescreen” of the industry, as Rorandelli puts it.
“I want to provide a way for people to investigate the reality of the tobacco industry,” Rorandelli says in a promotional video for the book, “and realize how smoking is not just detrimental to the final user, but also along its entire value chain.”
His work begins the fields, where, according to his research, 9 million acres of trees globally are subjected to deforestation for tobacco. He uncovered exploitative child labor practices, including undocumented Latino children working in American tobacco fields, and thousands of children working on tobacco farms in India. He shows how workers in production facilities are exposed to dangerous chemicals and how aggressive, deceptive marketing strategies home in on new customers—often young, underage smokers across the world. Rorandelli’s projectfollows through to the logical end, to smokers facing life-threatening illness.
The photographsexude a calmness that belies the deadly ramifications of the industry he’s photographed. It feels like a fitting metaphor for the industry itself—quiet and cool on the surface, with well-hidden dangers all through its supply chain.
The result of his decade-long project is Bitter Leaves (Gost Books), scheduled to be released in July 2019 . With text and insightful infographics by noted tobacco industry foil Judith MacKay, the book promises to be more than just a lush photographic exploration, delivering a visual, research-driven indictment against the global tobacco industry.