NEW YORK, NY.- In Rome 1970s
(Daylight, June 2019) photographer Stephan Brigidi captures everyday life in Italy, focusing on Rome, during a time when the country moved from an innocent "dolce vita" existence to a more hardened reality. Known as the anni di piombo, or "years of lead," the 1970s was a difficult decade, full of extreme violence, political unrest, social challenges, and economic instability. Through portraiture, street work, urban views, and details of Rome and its surrounds, Brigidi's searing black and white and color photographs tell a story of how modern-day Italy came to be during a decade that is now largely forgotten.
Specific events marked this turbulent period. Italian film director and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered by his lover on November 2,1975 just three weeks before the premiere of his shocking film of depravity, Salo, based on 120 Days of Sodom. The powerful political leader, Aldo Moro, was kidnapped by the Red Brigades on March 16,1978 and killed after 54 days of captivity. That same year, two popes died in rapid succession. On June 21, Pope Paul VI died from a heart attack after a long illness. His successor, John Paul I, died abruptly after one month's reign under dubious circumstances that spurred suspicion of Vatican intrigue and corruption.
These explosive happenings, among many others, shook the very fiber of Italy. Stephan Brigidi, who experienced firsthand the way tensions were unfolding, writes: "I think of the 1970s as a turning point in Italian life. The social climate was in motion, unpredictable. This was a different kind of unrest, lacking any kind of compass or clear path. An uncertainty challenged the grand Roman resilience of surviving and rolling with the times. The natural optimism inherent in Italian society was threatened. I could see it in the eyes of the people I passed each day on the streets. Within the old Ghetto quarter, my home, I sensed a changing tempo."
Brigidi captured the social life around him as it played out on the streets - a chaotic market scene, a policeman taking a smoke break as he scrutinizes Brigidi's camera, an old woman sweeping the floor of a portico oblivious of the neoclassical fallen statue behind her, laundry strung up on a clothesline between two buildings, an old man playing a violin, three men in a bar, colorful political posters and posters promoting movies, and the photographer's fleeting moment of interaction with a mother and child who pass him on the street as the woman stretches out her hand to him for alms.
Brigidi's staged portraits taken in the interiors of Romans' homes span the range of socioeconomic classes and are in sharp contrast to his uncalculated exterior scenes. In one intriguing photograph, Brigidi captures a wealthy-looking middle-aged woman seated on a couch flanked by two strapping young boys who perch on either side of her without their shirts on. This image begs the question: what is the nature of the relationship between these three subjects? Other portraits include a woman seated on a sofa with a shawl wrapped around her in a moment of contemplation, and a woman looking directly at the camera holding a large bowl that covers the top half of her body.
In the booming, hedonistic 1980s that followed one of Italy's darkest decades, many Italians enjoyed prosperity and embraced a spirit of optimism. In her essay in the book, curator and art historian Martina Tanga writes: "Brigidi's camera lens penetrated Romans' daily existence, recording the complexity of a decade that has since wished to be forgotten, but might be worth rediscovering." This is Rome 1970s.
Stephan Brigidi is a working artist and teacher of Photography and Aesthetics. He is the author of five books of photographs, most recently Portrait (2017). Other Italian titles include Angels of Pompeii with poet Robert Bly, Afraid of the Dark: A Venetian Story, and The Fire of Rome. Brigidi received a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship to study in Italy in 1977-78, with subsequent grants to continue his work there, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. He has been traveling and working in Italy for over 40 years. Brigidi's work is held in numerous museum, corporate and private collections in the United States and Europe.
Domenico Dodaro, born in Cosenza, Italy, has been a resident of Rome for over 35 years. He is an attorney at Dodaro Studio Legale in Rome, partner of the Juridicum legal network. He is a graduate of the University of Rome LUISS, receiving a law degree in 1989, with practice in the fields of commercial and entertainment law. A knowledge-able photographer and writer, Dodaro is also co-author of the popular best seller The Ghosts of the Empire, now in its seventh printing, published by Sellerio, Palermo (2017).
Martina Tanga is a curator and art historian, with an interest in art that engages with social concerns, feminism, and the built environment. She is a specialist in 20th-century Italian art, and her forthcoming book Arte Ambientale: Urban Space, and Participatory Art (Routledge Press) examines radical artistic practices situated in Italy's 1970s urban landscape. She formerly held the position of Koch Curatorial Fellow at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Currently, she is the Curatorial Research and Interpretation Associate in the Art of the Americas department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Tanga earned her BA and MA in the History of Art from University College London and a doctorate in the History of Art and Architecture from Boston University.