Photographer Rocco Rorandelli spent over a decade travelling the world to document the impact of the tobacco industry on health, the economy and the environment.
His resulting series, Bitter Leaves, reveals its effects in India, China, Indonesia, USA, Germany, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Slovenia and Italy, and collectively examines the complexity of this global industry and the influence of corporate mechanisms and power.
Now available in a new photobook, published by GOST Books, with a description that reads: “Cigarettes are one of the most marketed consumer products in history. Their apparent simplicity and design – tobacco leaves, paper and filter – hides both the chemical toxicity of smoke and the socio-economic and environmental negative aspects linked to their production, marketing and use. Rorandelli’s thorough investigation of the industry-led him from the tobacco fields to medical centres, vast warehouses, factories, museums and customs facilities, to elucidate the vast web of the industry and the human and environmental burden.”
Speaking of his series, Rocco adds: “I have witnessed how tobacco promotes the stripping of farmlands, threatens workers with dangerous chemicals, exploits child labour and undocumented workers, utilizes aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at identifying new customers (mostly underage), and conducts heavy lobbying to promote its expansion to novel markets and social strata.”
The afterword, captions and infographics in Bitter Leaves are by senior scientific consultant Dr Judith MacKay, who says: “Though the tobacco industry has a strong hand of control throughout the tobacco cycle from seed to sale, while negating globally recognized health science and causing ecological destruction among other offences—the devastation it causes is ultimately borne by governments, tobacco workers, users and their families, creating a seemingly endless cycle of poverty, destruction and death.”
Rocco Rorandelli began working as a documentary photographer after studying Zoology. This background sparked a profound interest in global social and environmental issues. His photographs have been used in several awareness campaigns of intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations and published by Le Monde Magazine, Der Spiegel, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Guardian Review, amongst others.
In 2011 he was awarded a grant by the Fund for Investigative Journalism for his long-term project on the tobacco industry which led to Bitter Leaves, alongside a more recent grant from the World Health Organization which has supported the production of this book. Rorandelli is currently based in Rome and one of the founding members of the collective, TerraProject.
Bitter Leaves by Rocco Rorandelli will be published next month by GOST Books. You can pre-order at gostbooks.com.
Munich, Germany Henkel, a chemical and consumer goods company exhibiting at the World Tobacco Expo. © Rocco Rorandelli
Nipani, India. Tobacco labourer Dipali Lohar in a mixed field with bidi tobacco and sorgum. © Rocco Rorandelli
Milan, Italy A Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT) scanning machine at the European Institute of Oncology, used to detect cancer. © Rocco Rorandelli
Periyapatna, India A farmer’s child sitting on a tobacco bale on the floor of a tobacco auction house. © Rocco Rorandelli
Kunming, China The headquarters of the Kunming Tobacco Cigarette Factory. © Rocco Rorandelli
Yuxi, China Inside the Hongta Group factory. © Rocco Rorandelli
Goldsboro, NC, USA Miguel, a fourteen-year-old Mexican migrant worker, picking leaves in a tobacco field with his aunt and uncle. © Rocco Rorandelli
Nipani, India The Apparamadhange family—owner of five acres of tobacco growing land—drying their yearly production. © Rocco Rorandelli
Jakarta, Indonesia An underage smoker. © Rocco Rorandelli