How did you source and select material for the Amore e Piombo publication?
Amore e Piombo is one element of a wider project to build a collection of press photography from around the world and across the twentieth century. This is destined for a public museum. The idea isn’t to be completist, but to have strong representational strands from different regions and from different moments.
Obviously Italian photojournalism is widely revered. However, if you look at major museum shows or recent publishing, the agenda is dominated by the “La Dolce Vita” narrative of the paparazzi. Looking at the books of Tazio Seccharoli, tucked away from the Ekbergs and the Sophia Lorens, there are a few examples of his photographs of the 1968 student riots in Rome. Trawling through Ebay sites it became apparent that in fact many of these so called paparazzi photographers and agencies spent as much time covering political, religious and cultural events as they did on stalking celebrities and hanging around film sets.
So as part of the desire to build the press collection the Archive was hunting an Italian agency of the 60s and 70s and found one, Team Editorial Services, which had been active since the mid 60s and had closed in the early 2000’s. AMC negotiated to acquire, for a future public domain, a significant collection of surviving vintage prints clearing the path for a series of editing trips to trawl through the entire agency archive of around 250,000 prints and a million negatives and transparencies. The selection was informed by the collection and what emerged was a strength in the 1970s and the ‘viscous mystery of the period. The prints were remarkable but the weakness was in the almost complete lack of caption information. We flipped a switch in one another that turned the process from being fully engaged into being clinically obsessive. We read everything that we could, watched endless documentaries and movies from the period, gemming up on obscure 70s politicians and becoming fanatic about conspiracy theories.
Mid way through the editing trips, Photoworks Director Celia Davies contacted the Archive about the possibility of mounting an exhibition for the Brighton Photo Biennial around the broad theme of collaboration. As we wrote in our accompanying essay, the 1970s in Italy are the perfect soil for exploring the extremes of collaboration, from its complete absence – like in the case of the kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro – or its degenerate version of utter corruption. The exhibition and the book have many narrative layers, but the idea to intercut glamour with turmoil and reverse the mainstream paparazzi narrative by fore-grounding politics and back-grounding celebrity was predominant.
Photoworks was interested. This immediately changed the dynamic of the final editing trip. Now we were looking for a specific narrative and thinking about possible groups and links between the images as we edited.
When the prints were finally delivered we went through the 14,000 prints again reducing them to a group of 600 prints from which we constructed the exhibition and the book.
How did the publication inform the wider Amore e Piombo exhibition for Brighton Photo Biennial 2014?
Curating the exhibition came first. Editing the book followed. The idea was to create two complementary but distinctly different outcomes. There are some images in the book but not in the exhibition and vice versa. The exhibition was a site-specific installation in the challenging space of the decommissioned reference library at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, so lots of oak shelving and the solution of vertical grids of shelf mounted images.
One of the films we’d watched was Fellini’s Roma (1972). In it Fellini makes a series of journeys into Rome, once as a child with the Jesuits, once as a youth into the era of Mussolini and then in “today’s Rome” with his film crew filming a road journey into the heart of the city. We realised that almost every film still of that “today’s Rome” sequence could be echoed by a print from the Team Agency collection and decided to embed this into the exhibition. As we pumped up the sound track, which has almost no dialogue other than some easily translatable insults hurled from one car to another, we realised how its soundscape of traffic noise, sirens, driving rain and chanting served to introduce the exhibition leading the audience down the road into Italy in the 70s. We left it to resonate as a soundtrack to the exhibition. To counterbalance this somewhat fictional incipit, we decided to incorporate some brutally real sound element. And the exhibition ended with the actual voice of a member of the Red Brigades, when he calls one of Moro’s University assistant to inform him of Moro’s death and where his body could be found.
The book edit followed and the Fellini sequence emerged as the key narrative framework for sequencing the book. The idea for oppositional editing was in part inspired by Stephan Lorent’s pairings for Lilliput first used to effect by John Heartfield. The Italian publication, Il Borghese, a right wing magazine edited by a neofascist borrowed the style placing it in Italian context in their 1960s and 70s editions. Equally the mainstream magazines of the period constantly intercut glamour with conflict, so the technique seemed appropriate and authentic.
An initial sequence drawing on groupings we’d each made in the exhibition edit was laid down. We then cranked these up refining our preferred pairings and homing the sequence. The fires lit on the via Veneto in 1968 were placed at the book’s centerfold. This symbolic image summarizes the metamorphosis of paparazzi photography after “La Dolce Vita”. The via Veneto was the cruising ground for film stars and photographers. Captured as lit on fire by the students’ protests and placed at the middle of the book works as the crucial crossover from frivolous glamour to the escalating violence that follows.
We then took our sequence, essay, selected quotes and detailed captions to the designer Melanie Mues. She then versioned it into a book that split the quotes across pages, left the text to the end and invited the reader to flip back and forth. It makes demands on the reader that is quite different from other more traditional publications making virtue of the ‘viscous mystery’ at the heart of the story. Events in Italy in the 70s are mired in controversy and still unresolved to this day.
As the project evolved a larger team formed around it. We would like to thank Ed Jones and James Welch from AMC for guiding the production of the exhibition and the book, Marita Pappa for her production work on the book, Fiona Redmond and the team at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and Celia Davies and the team at Photoworks.
Ultimately, the true unsung heroes of the project are the multiple photographers of Team Editorial Services. Their work made to supply a magazine industry was an editor’s dream. They are seldom individually credited, the authorial ‘I’ subsumed within the agency’s corporate ‘we’.
Finally we should say the period between the first editing trip and the publication of the book and the opening of the exhibition was nine months. It was fast paced and intense and we think that is reflected in both outcomes.
What does winning the Kraszna-Krausz Book Award mean to AMC?
The Archive is a complex organization with many agendas. AMC books have attracted a remarkable level of critical attention and garnered numerous awards since the very beginning. For design, conception and scrutiny of a neglected practice, The Whale’s Eyelash, drawing on a collection of micro-slides, is a masterpiece. So it’s great to be a part of a strong recent wave and we would like to thank Timothy Prus for the opportunity.
Roger Hargreaves & Federica Chiocchetti
For more information about the book click here.
For more on The Brighton Photo Biennial 2014 and the Amore e Piombo exhibition click here