There were so many photographers of other countries that have documented Italy and the Italians, from Henri Cartier-Bresson to William Klein but the Barbey’s reportage is a shining example of how a photographer able to immerse himself in a documentary work can achieve to identify certain nuances in an extraordinary way.
Barbey is Magnum photographer who later showed us a masterful color reportage work, but this does not cut off that his work in black and white showed through this report represents one of the extraordinary pages of documentary photography.
It was the 1960s. Italy “raising its head” after the horrors and miseries generated by the war. The middle class, after so much suffering, knew the economic boom, a perhaps illusory enthusiasm, a new society maybe a little bit a la americana, in some ways. The music for example also became something of the young, creating the first cultural tribes. Fashion was now something that was beginning to be followed by more people, who finally had some extra cash to express their way of being. Yet in this context there were still pockets of dire poverty, especially in the south-center of the country. Italy was a land of fierce contrasts and this gives our eyes in this extraordinary fresco of Italy of that time.
In the early 1960s, Bruno Barbey crisscrossed Italy from North to South attempting to capture the spirit of the nation. “The Italians” is an evocative collection of Barbey’s modern Comedia Dell’Arte of beggars, priests, nuns, carbinieri, prostitutes and Mafiosi; archetypal figures whose exotic charms helped to make the films of Pasolini, Visconti and Fellini so popular.