Amore e Piombo The Photography of Extremes in 1970s Italy (AMC)

The ninth publication by the Archive of Modern Conflict Books (AMC) is breathtaking!

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cover (Melanie Mues)

We are presented with a selection of 110 high-contrast b&w tabloid photographs that were originally diffused in the press by the Rome based agency Team Editorial Services (TES). The series lead us back to the 1970’ies and is breathtaking because moments of glamour and violence are presented in it as two extremes that are  dancing with each other in quiet mysterious ways.

But the series is also breathtaking because of its beautiful and clever design by Melanie Mues. The insertion of (the right) quotes by Federico Fellini, Italo Calvino and Dario Fo into the sequence of pictures is a stroke of genious because of the “trick with the spread” (see image below) and because of the choice of the red-orange-yellow colours of the quotation pages. These fiery colours make the blacks-and-whites of the pictures all the more telling.

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p. 27 © Team Editorial Services/Alinari/AMC

During the 1970’ies, Italy was reaching the point of no return in its definitive conversion from a pre-war economy to a new, global economy that is sustained by the consumerism and sometimes hedonism of each and every individual citizen.

In the photographic testimonies of TES we can see how – in this new societal context – some major ideologies were coming to an end: the wrist watches of some far-left supporters seem to announce the end of socialism (p 22-23); women en route to a religious ceremony are holding their ritual attributes in an awkward manner (p 12); some humble catholic nuns and their ecclesiastical authorities do not know how to look to paparazzi (p 51); the respecatble jesuit father Bartolomeo Sorge even begins to look like a samourai in high tech Japan (p 36).

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p 22-23 © Team Editorial Services/Alinari/AMC

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p 12 © Team Editorial Services/Alinari/AMC

 

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p 51 © Team Editorial Services/Alinari/AMC

Definitely, a new era is changing tack through the emancipation of a complete generation from its past. “Maria” is claiming her rights as a woman (p 64, 74) “Guiseppe” as a transvestite (p 28), others are advocating the right to abortion (p 30), divorce (p 65, 88) or non-normative lifestyles (p 14-15). And people also started to hit the streets in order to vent their discontment about the new realities. Wine and milk producers for example were claiming back their old local economy (p 71,77).

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p.64 – 65 © Team Editorial Services/Alinari/AMC

We also see how, in the spotlights of stardom, many new societal identities and archetypes were staged. Many Italians seem to have been eager to adopt these identities in their own lives, prosaic as it may have been.

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p. 72 © Team Editorial Services/Alinari/AMC

We also see many cars. Symbols of individual freedom where they are vehicles to access frenetic nightlife (p 16-17) ; symbols of private comfort where they function as a protective luxury cage for the shy empress of Iran (p 24); symbols as well of domestic violence where they serve as vehicles for explosions (p 100), murder (p 115) or police apprehension (p 120-121) …..

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p 115 © Team Editorial Services/Alinari/AMC

And here we are at the dark heart of the “Years of Lead” in Italy. The peninsula may have been on the verge of civil war with its ever changing government coalitions, the permanent occupations of universities and factories, furious industrial conflicts, right-wing terroristic outrages masquerading as acts of left-wing radicalism, theatrical assassinations which were all leading up to one traumatic climax: the kidnap and subsequent murder of former prime minister Aldo Moro.

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p 122-123 © Team Editorial Services/Alinari/AMC

This tragic, ultra-violent and highly mediatised murder also constitutes the finale of Amore e Piombo. And all of a sudden the reader realizes that this book is more than an album of historical highlights. The photographs seem to be collated and presented as a rebus, a riddle in images, a graphic cryptogram sheding a subtle light on the dark and mysterious mechanisms behind the violence.

Was there any orchestration behind the violence? The authors of the book are writing: “There are no paper trails, just whispers in the deep shadows. Unseen hands certainly stirred the ingredients of the season – gnostic terrorism, conspiracy and collaboration – into the already toxic brew of perpetual coalition government, economic stagnation and industrial unrest as Europe’s fiercest and most radical working class movements took the streets“. But, ultimately the authors are also adding: “All the while, the true puppet-masters and string-pullers remain just out of frame“.

Therefore, the clues to decipher the rebus are impossible to find. Although maybe, maybe, maybe the Italo Calvino quote is an important clue. “Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else“.

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p 7 © Team Editorial Services/Alinari/AMC

Throughout the book we witness the desires and fears of the Italian society. We see the absurd rules and the deceitful perspectives. We realize that everything conceals something else. We want to understand the secret discourse. We want to catch the true puppet-masters and string-pullers.

The spread with the Calvino quote is ingeniously seperated between pages 26 and 111.  Maybe it is an important clue because ugh oh, who do we see each time on its opposite pages (pages 27 and 110)? A man with a mission?

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