Photoworks, Brighton Photo Biennial: Amore e Piombo, The Photography of Extremes in 1970s Italy
Produced by Photoworks, the Brighton Photo Biennial is the UK’s largest international photography festival. For its sixth edition in 2014 they break with the single curator model and instead are working in close partnership with a host of regional, national and international collaborators to develop a series of new projects on the theme of ‘Communities, Collectives & Collaboration‘. Designed to inspire, challenge and celebrate the most democratic medium of our age, BPB14 takes place online and in public spaces, galleries and pop-up venues across Brighton & Hove and beyond, involving more than 45 photographers and collaborators all bound by a common approach. Featuring re-discovered archives premiering new commissions, BPB14 addresses the role of photography across genres and includes established and emerging talent, across communities and continents.
As a co-commission by Photoworks and Archive of Modern Conflict, Federica Chiocchetti and Roger Hargreaves presented for the first time an unparalleled collection of photographs made by a group of photographers working for the Rome-based agency Team Editorial Services, and representative of the tumultuous era of the so-called ‘Years of Lead’ (Anni di Piombo).
The press photographers constantly shifted between battling film stars at play and the reality of near civil war unfolding on the streets. Politics and celebrity are brought together through the paparazzi style of alto contrasto, collusion and intrusion. Alluded to, although less visible, are the murkier dealings of clandestine groups linked to the Italian Secret Services, The P2 Masonic Lodge the CIA and NATO, operating against the backdrop of the extremes of the Red and Black Brigades. Archive prints are presented alongside television news footage, film sequences and sound recordings. A choice of Italian photo-books of the period, loaned from the Martin Parr collection, add a further layer of reference.
Forty years on and Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’ are still shrouded in mystery. Despite countless attempts to unravel the political confusion of the times, key tragic events, from the Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan in 1969, to Aldo Moro’s 1978 kidnap and assassination by the Red Brigades, remain unresolved. Instead of offering answers, the exhibition Amore e Piombo (Love and Lead): The Photography of Extremes in 1970s Italy presents for scrutiny the press photography of this most turbulent and tangled decade.
Italy in the 1970s witnessed a period of domestic terrorism punctuated by bombings, kidnappings and assassinations. The catalyst for violence was the rise of the Italian Communist Party as an electoral force, opposed by the extremes of the left and right within Italy and externally by the USA and the Soviet Union. At the centre of this collusion and intrusion were the murkier manoeuvrings of clandestine groups within NATO, the CIA, the Italian Secret Services and the P2 (Propaganda Due) Masonic Lodge. Outrages perpetrated by one group masqueraded as acts carried out by another. The Italian press came to term this, ‘dietrologia’, the study of what you can’t see.
The press photographs selected for Amore e piombo (Love and Lead) from the Archives of Rome-based agency Team Editorial Services capture the manifold aspects of these so-called ‘Years of Lead’, as the photographers oscillated between pursuing film stars at play and capturing the violence on the streets. These acts of public performance occurred against a backdrop of industrial unrest and a sexual revolution that embraced divorce reforms and abortion laws, feminism, gay rights and the new contraceptive pill. Far from offering answers or uncovering definitive truths, the photographs reveal only fragments of evidence about this most turbulent and tangled decade, while the true puppet-masters and string pullers remain tantalisingly just out of frame.
The Guardian, Internazionale (Italian), The Telegraph, where Claire Holland writes: “The go-see exhibition is the brilliantly conceived Amore e Piombo: Photography of Extremes in 1970s Italy. Arranged in the former reference library of the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, it’s a master class in curatorial storytelling. Housed within the glass book cabinets are uniformly scaled and framed black and white street scenes, documenting Italy’s “years of lead” – a time of instability and intense political violence. Paparazzi shots of Hollywood starlets collide with press photographs of violent demonstrations, and disturbing, Weegee-esque crime scene shots that have been placed on a series of dark plinths seeming to rise from the floor like tombstones”.