Italy revealed by Italians on social networks

Italy is, in part, a photographic invention, a mirage of tourist clichés and decadent Venetian palace magazines, savage Sardinian beaches and almost pornographic close-ups of creamy Roman carbonara. “Images of Italian profiles”, a project born on Facebook and recently published in the form of a book of the same title, shows us something different: what its creator, Stefano Frosini, calls “a marginal Italy”, going beyond ” brilliant rhetoric”. of the Belpaese which ends up cannibalizing all the other possible narratives.

As its title suggests, the project collects images from Italians’ social media profiles and, as the page grows, images submitted from photo albums and personal collections. The photos are selected by Frosini, a twenty-nine-year-old teacher from Pistoia, Tuscany, for their strangeness or improbable beauty, for their absurdity or their grotesqueness. They are unpretentious photographs, even “made by mistake or without particular ambition”, Frosini told Emiliano Ceresi in an interview. He chose an English name for the band to avoid the impression that he was somehow driven by smug patriotism, and these images do more to satirize and complicate national myths than reinforce them.

Some are obviously Italian self-mockery, like the painting of the policeman stepping away from his official duties for a moment (or perhaps fulfilling them eminently) to lift the duct tape so that a woman and her child can take home pizzas, a rare shot which, according to Frosini, was taken by a professional journalist – or the various photos of babies with cigarettes in their hands (in one case, on the knees of a priest). Some are disconcerting, like an unforgettable photo of a man in a Spider-Man T-shirt, staring in feigned amazement at the camera, next to a bed on which lie dozens of eggs. But many are Italian in a way that only becomes more meaningful and nuanced, as you spend time in the non-touristy places where most people actually live, and experience for yourself. baptisms and funerals, the smell of pines by the sea, the disturbing emptiness of the big cities during the Ferragosto holidays in mid-August, and everywhere the weight of the past. The images show the down to earth side of proverbs rather than the brilliant ease of stereotypes.

Frosini’s eye gravitates to the kind of images his parents and grandparents used to look at during the lazy hours after a holiday meal. Her page collects family albums, anonymous but vivid photos of “school trips, New Year’s parties, Easter Mondays, last-minute birthday parties, small-town parties”, the occasions on which, writes Frosini, “the person taking the pictures do it Cordially, renouncing aesthetic sublimation techniques that flatten his taste to a single standard, seen elsewhere and consciously reproduced. Although Frosini’s project was made possible thanks to social networks, it is not.

Rather, “Pictures” revels in the kind of unfettered sharing that took place in the early days of posting photos online, before each image became an act of self-fashioning. The images are marked by the neglect of the disposable camera and, according to Frosini, an earlier era of digital photography, when it was easy and cheap to take hundreds of photos, but before scripts, postures and the carefully studied social media iconography. had solidified. Although all photographs are anonymous, Frosini was drawn to photographing digital non-natives, those people we all know who tend to over-share both online and in person, and who, in Italy, perfume often their language with the dialect telling the forgotten story of a mischievous uncle or a now totally unfunny joke or an obscure local feud whose causes you simply cannot understand.

There’s nostalgia in this approach, but also more than a hint of mockery: at first, Frosini would visit the comments section of online newspapers, find the “most extreme and all-caps” comment, and scroll through the Facebook profile. of the person who made it, “because language is always a good place to start,” he told Ceresi. (Frosini himself writes in a particularly careful, correct and sometimes bookish Italian.) Although he rethought his methods when the group became popular, above all to ensure the privacy of the people represented, “Pictures” is not not without ugly moments, especially in its depiction of the elderly; sometimes the sheer naivety of an image feels like we’re simply being invited to poke fun at both the photographed and the photographer. But, at its best, “Pictures” is marked by Diane Arbus’ wit, sweet pathos and stranger-than-fiction unexpectedness.

Although the book’s timeline is broad, stretching from the black-and-white era of the grainy digital beginnings to the twenty-two megapixel present, most of the images are from the 1990s and early 2000s, when Frosini was a small child. (He was born in 1993.) Frosini might as well be the boy eating pasta in his messy room while “Futurama” is on TV, under a poster of the Azzurri, the Italian national soccer team, with a box of AS juice on the windowsill and a small Charizard sticker on the side of his desk. Photos like these are “all chasms of collective nostalgia for our country, objective correlates of entire phases of youth,” Frosini explained. He said that at first he included a photo just because of “an unknown person’s marked resemblance to someone I knew”, and it could easily be one of his friends who, responding to a challenge or just encouraged on youth itself, flies from a swing past the twisted arm of a gnarled old tree, into the future.

A recurring concern is the contrast of old age and youth – the defining social dynamic in Italy, where there are two old people for every child. In one unforgettable image, which sits near the center of Frosini’s print collection, an elderly woman holds a PlayStation 2 version of Final Fantasy X on the table with both hands, a puzzled expression on her face. In the background, a young girl – presumably her granddaughter – smiles and gives a thumbs up. In the blurry, faded Polaroid image, whose very coloring evokes a lost world, the old woman stares into what looks like the deep past. She may very well have no idea what she’s holding or why it’s important. The image is as amusing as the fads of old people can be. But, at the same time, it is disturbing. In a country increasingly overwhelmed by its elderly, and where 85-year-old Silvio Berlusconi is seeking a new term in power, nostalgia can mix with fear, anger, frustration and disgust.

The nonni of these images are sometimes charming but just as often grotesque; they are often uncomfortable with the young people around them and with the presumably young viewer. The white-haired, bare-chested man who eats Bolognese for lunch doesn’t seem to be saying anything particularly nice; the white tiles on the wall and floor, and the white door behind him, only bring out his flushed face and sunburnt chest. In another photo, a slightly confused-looking old man, wearing his trilby indoors, sits and holds a handwritten note reading “non devi morire” – “you don’t have to die”. Frosini doesn’t usually comment on the images he posts, and here this image, while perhaps funny at first glance, quickly slips into uncomfortable ambiguity.

About Abraham Vernon

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