Federico Patellani



Considerations on the exhibition “The summer of 1945 in Italy: Lina Bo’s journey in Federico Patellani’s photographs”

In the last days of April 1945, Italy finally freed itself from Nazi-fascism. The insurrection had taken hold almost simultaneously in the cities that formed the industrial triangle in the north of the country: Genoa, Milan and Turin. To commemorate the end of the world conflict, the date of April 25 will be symbolically chosen, the first day of the uprising in Milan, the organizational capital of the Resistance.

With the end of the war, the Italians faced the arduous task of rebuilding a country reduced to a landscape of ruins, as noted by photojournalist Federico Patellani, in a text filled with a certain humor – “La vita delle macerie” –, written in the heat of the moment: “If a traveler asked me what is the strangest aspect of Italian life today, I would have no doubt and I would say: the life of rubble […]. Residents of bombed cities got used to living in the midst of the rubble of their city and knew how to take advantage of it. Poverty, adaptability, corruption too. Who, during bombings, under bombings – perhaps having taken shelter in an unsafe cellar, which, at the first draft of air, seemed ready to collapse on the head of those who had taken refuge there – could have imagined that each bomb that exploded created dozens of secluded corners for 1945 boyfriends or waiting rooms for unemployed street women? Who would have thought then that his living room on the ground floor, once the house had been razed, would have been transformed into an open-air dormitory for the destitute? The well-behaved young man, whose house had a beautiful hallway with arches, could not imagine that one of those arches – the only one destined to remain standing – would acquire the appearance of a ruin of the Roman Forum; Not even the builder of popular houses in 1915 [could have guessed] that, thirty years later, in the courtyard he had designed for the games of the numerous offspring of workers, the police and bandits would exchange submachine gun fire. This is all life in the midst of rubble. Love is made and banditry is practiced, sleep is played and cards are played. In general, it can be said that today, in the middle of the rubble, what was once used to be done on the lawns of the outskirts is being done. And it could also be said that, today, the true periphery is in the center of the city, in the middle of the rubble”.

The scenario of desolation that was observed throughout the peninsula led the magazine Domus from Milan to commission the photojournalist to write a report on the damage caused by the war and housing conditions in the country, whose texts would be in charge of the two co-directors of the renowned periodical conceived by Gio Ponti, a prestigious architect and designer. In 1941, Gio Ponti had left Domus for founding Lo stile nella casa e nell'arredamento, taking with them the two young collaborators, who, however, in 1943 would return to the previous magazine. In Documenti e notizie raccolti in trent'anni di viaggio nel su”, Federico Patellani noted that he undertook a journey towards the south, “at the end of the summer of 1945, when by car, in the company of the architects Lina Bo and Carlo Pagani, I left Milan dealing with very serious ruins caused by German desperation and the slowness of the Allies in the concluding phase of the war in Italy and in the battles for the liberation of Rome”.

Also registering, in the same publication: “It is the first time that I go down to the south, in the post-war period, in the company of the Milanese architects Bo and Pagani. The recognition of the destroyed monuments soon becomes a survey of the ruins caused to men by war, especially in the last year of the slow approach of the Allies to Rome. In Valmontone, the shadows of the two towers of the Colegiada da Assunção are lost amidst the rubble of a lifeless village. More than half of its inhabitants found shelter within the rickety XNUMXth-century walls of the Doria palace. Going down to Cassino, the torn up plants and devastated villages in the heights stand out in the landscape”.

The report, which began in the capital of Lombardy, will continue to Emilia-Romagna – Marzabotto (which Pier Paolo Pasolini will evoke in Saló or the 120 days of Sodom, 1975), a deserted Marzabotto, after the massacre of civilians perpetrated by a Nazi division, between September 29 and October 5, 1944, in retaliation for the support of its inhabitants to the partisans –, by Tuscany (Florence; Buonconvento and Radiocofani, both in the province of Siena) and by Lazio – Acquapendente (in the province of Viterbo); Viterbo itself; Cassino (in the province of Frosinone) and Valmontone (in the province of Rome) –, region in which it ended, when the three almost contemporary travelers (Patellani was from 1911; Pagani, from 1913; Bo, from 1914) reached the capital of the country.

This is what is recorded in the exhibition “The summer of 1945 in Italy: Lina Bo's journey in the photographs of Federico Patellani”, organized by Francesco Perrotta-Bosch and held by the Instituto Italiano de Cultura de São Paulo from August 10th to September 7th. October of this year. In the institution's garden, a metal structure was set up that supported the forty-five photos on display and the explanatory panels that contained practically the same information as the leaflet distributed to the public. The structure's layout, hollow, allowed a concomitant view of a set of works, enabling an interaction similar to that obtained with the use of glass easels created by Lina Bo Bardi for the art gallery of the São Paulo Museum. Intentional reference, involuntary allusion or a simple association of ideas caused by editing?

When trying to reconstruct, almost eight decades later, such an uneven journey, the curator of the show himself points out some inaccuracies: “There are doubts about the sequence of the itinerary: the trio could have gone straight to Rome or visited some municipalities to the south and then return to the eternal city.” The photo “Rome, Campo Marzio – fascist architecture – headquarters building of Studio d'Arte Palma, art gallery by Pietro Maria Bardi” (which was not part of the exhibition, but is available on the website of the Museum of Contemporary Photography), in which Lina Bo is portrayed in the company of her future husband and an unidentified man, it does not serve to clarify much, as it may have been taken between August 8 and September 30, 1945, as noted in her file. Bo and Pagani had known Bardi “from a distance” since the early 1940s, when he began collaborating with the new magazine edited by Gio Ponti. A text published in the catalog of the exhibition “Patellani Valmontone 1945”, in 2003, does not help to solve the enigma either, since, as it is not dated, it could either have been written by the photographer at the time or it could be an observation a posteriori:

From the top of the church

vision of valmontone


from Casilina road

what difference is there

among these ruins

and those of the Roman forums

seen from the Palatine?

None, except that

in Rome with time

the grass grew again

between one ruin and another.

The fact that there are no images of Lina Bo in Cassino or Valmontone, as Perrotta-Bosch points out, does not mean that she did not visit both places, as the exhibition did not always present photographic records that attest to her presence throughout the trip. . If the architect was portrayed in Milan, Buonconvento, Rome and, it seems, in Acquapendente, the same did not happen in other locations: Marzabotto, Florence, Radiocofani, Viterbo, Valmontone and Cassino. In this one, Patellani visited both the Benedictine monastery perched on top of Monte Cassino and the small town at its foot, which gets a little mixed up in the folder.

However, in “La vie dans le cimetière (Cassino and Montecassino)”, typed text from September 1945, the photographer had clearly reported his impressions: “They say: Cassino and Montecassino are a single cemetery. Five thousand five hundred Anglo-Saxons down there on the plain between the meanders of the [river] Garigliano, those who died in the attempted frontal assault on the mount. The village, without houses. The slopes, on the slope that leads to the monastery, with the countless black skeletons of the olive trees. The monastery reduced to a theater frame in ruins and then, on the northern slopes, the two thousand Poles killed in the encircling maneuver that gave the attackers possession of the bastion, impregnable for long months. The rubble at the top of the hill is the abode of the monks. The few cells that remain are buried under tiny chips of precious marble and the mouth of the access stairs emerges unexpectedly among the faces of fallen, decapitated angels. The monks, leaning over the ground, spend their days picking up fragments, moving stones, making a passage more accessible. There are still those who, every day, dust off an altar, which has become a relic almost as precious as the ones it contains. In the evening, the monks walk slowly among the stones, reading prayers, and they look like bears locked in a new cage to which the variations in the itinerary do not adapt, with which a kind of journey on the surface of a few square meters of the previous cage was possible. The monks' step does not trust the old habit – the stones, chips and debris are too much – but accepts the new reality and gives life to a new habit. On the slopes, the less blackened trunks show some leaves. Down there, later, a village, Nuova Cassino, appeared, made of single-story houses, a kind of low-cost masonry sheds, intended to accommodate at least part of the homeless. But it is not this emergency construction that counts in our eyes. Stroll along the trails that the soldiers created as they passed between the piles of rubble, at the height of the ceilings of the shops. You will find people. If a house has one floor, a rare thing in Cassino, look through the windows at eye level: it is inhabited. Instinct brought the animal back to its own den. The woman who returns carrying water has a pile of intact bricks on her head, picked up here and there among the uninhabited rubble. In the dust-covered landscape, life slowly returned, rebellious and angry. In conclusion, only the two war cemeteries are really dead”.

The dating of the trip is also not very precise. Boreal summer runs from June 20-21 to September 22-23, therefore, if Patellani reported that the beginning of the trip to the south took place in the “late summer of 1945”, it would be assumed that it took place around September. Photos from the exhibition, however, show dates from other months. The article “The summer of 1945”, published by the magazine Go to the in its edition of September 30 of this year, it reproduces the text of the leaflet and the same four images, in addition to the one that served as a poster for the exhibition, adding, however, more specific dates in three of them: if the one of “The shadow of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Valmontone” and “Lina climbing a small ravine in Piazza Augusto Imperatore in Rome” have a generic 1945, are dated July 1945 to “Lina Bo in the Baia del Re district in Milan” and “Children in the Baia del Re neighborhood in Milan” (the one on the poster), and from August 1945 the one from “Buildings leaning on a street in Florence”. Other photos of the devastation of the Tuscan capital place Patellani's presence in the city between July 30th and August 31st, according to the website LombardyBeniCulturali.

“Buildings leaning on Florence street”, when published in the magazine Go to the, lost the prominence given to it in the folder, where, by occupying the entire back of the page, it functions as a kind of poster. It is an emblematic image to understand the future trajectory of the architect in Brazil, because, as it stands out to those who know her work and as the author of the text points out, the wooden beams that cross each other across the top of two buildings in a narrow Rua Florentina immediately refer to the Sesc Pompeia, with its high prestressed concrete walkways that connect the two large volumes built next to the sheds of an old factory, and it can also be added that the irregular windows of the larger prism and the “misaligned” ones of the smaller are reminiscent of the gaps and holes opened by the bombs in the building that serves as the background for Federico Patellani's photo.

Returning to the previous question, as the dates relating to the stay in Florence (August) and in the locations south of Rome (September) are confirmed by the files of other photos or by a handful of texts, it can be assumed that Federico Patellani kept in his I remember only the last month of the trip, perhaps because I was faced with a more impactful reality. As for the beginning of this long journey, it remains to outline some considerations regarding the Milanese records. As Perrotta-Bosch points out, on July 12, Patellani, Bo and Pagani went to the neighborhood Bay of the Re and in those days they still visited the shanty town, that is, the favelas, to document living conditions in peripheral areas.

Apparently, the task was carried out in three stages and not in two. On July 10, the trio was in the favelas; on the 11th, it was the turn of railing houses – in which several small houses face the same external corridor, with railings, which also serves as a balcony – in the region of ships (old artificial canals built for commercial purposes), ending the poll in Bay of the Re. Since the reports were carried out on consecutive days, it is to be assumed that the three were part of the same project. The exhibition, however, gave little importance to the residents of the shacks, none to the buildings along the canals (scenery of the film Rocco and his brothers, by Luchino Visconti, in 1960), focusing more on the exotic name community.

The current neighborhood of Stadera emerged in 1926 on a large open field where the Instituto Autónomo Casas Populares built 1886 apartments to house poor families, evicted or workers, and residents from the slums of Lambrate, Bullona and Crescenzago, on the outskirts of Milan, or housed in the deactivated prison on Parini street, in the central area. The official name of the neighborhood was 28th of October, in honor of the march on Rome, held in 1922, on that date, by thousands of followers of Benito Mussolini, an event that marked the beginning of the fascist era. The first residents arrived in 1928, the same year that the population of Milan gave the place a new name, baia del re (Baía do Rei), to ironically indicate a community in the middle of nowhere, given the distance that separated it not only from the center of the city, but also from its periphery. The nickname was reminiscent of the ill-fated expedition of Commander Umberto Nobile, who, on April 15, 1928, left Milan for the North Pole in the airship Italia, which, on the way back, stopped at Kongsfjorden (fjord or royal cove) , in Norway, instead of landing, it collided with the icy surface.

Both in the Milanese neighborhoods and in all the other locations visited, Federico Patellani's lens captured ruins and misery, but also the resumption of life, after the devastation caused by the war, the will to rebuild the country, on the part of men and women who matched each other in performing the most arduous tasks, as described in the aforementioned text “La vie dans le cimetière (Cassino and Montecassino)”, or clicked, for example, on the photo in which three women from these same neighborhoods carry buckets of lime (presumably) or stones on their heads, climbing up inclined boards or a wooden ladder at the back, to help two masons in the rebuilding a damaged building.

For this reason, the photographer was outraged by a comment by Colonel Harold Stevens, one of the announcers of the transmissions in italic on Radio London, since July 13, 1943, who seemed to be unaware of the pertinacity of the Italians to heal the wounds left by the world conflict: “ My friends ask me if I'm not ashamed to send these photos abroad and they reproach me for always being ready to document our corruption and, especially, our misery. I confess frankly that I have no shame and I have no regrets about frequently lying in wait with my Leica. Our country and our people are perhaps living through the most painful and miserable moments in their history. They also say we deserve it. Even so, one should not play the ostrich. My bitterness ran deep, but I didn't do it. In any case, my photos will demonstrate something. A few months ago, during his duty at Radio London, Colonel Stevens was giving an overview of the internal situation in the different countries of devastated Europe. In France, one is reborn – he said; in Germany, you work hard. In Italy, you dance. Clearly, the colonel was joking. Italy does not dance, not at all”.

Harold Stevens was certainly exaggerating, for he was reporting a half-truth. Several Italian authors referred to a certain frenzy that took over the country, as noted by the writer Raffaele La Capria, for example, when referring to his city, which, once freed from the Nazi-fascist yoke in October 1943, was experiencing a “briefly degenerated vitality”: “Naples was a very lively, explosive city, filled with such a feverish charge of vitality that it almost seemed to want to recover in a few months all the years of torpor and ruins that had just passed. It was a wonderful vitality, it was as if the Neapolitans lived following the frantic rhythm of the boogie-woogies, that the segnorine from the popular neighborhoods knew how to dance with a variety of evolutions and with an energy superior to that of any American soldier”.

It wasn't just the so-called segnorine – the term was a corruption of Signorina (= miss), that is, those women who had sexual relations with foreign soldiers, in general, prostitutes –, but also men and women who worked hard all week and were looking for a little fun. In this sense, it would be enough to remember the movie Rice bitter (1949), by Giuseppe De Santis, shot in 1948 in the Piedmontese rice paddies of the Po River plain, where the weeders and men employed in seasonal work, at night, after an exhausting day of work, still found the strength to dance the boogie-woogie.

In other words, entertainment did not prevent people from working tenaciously to resume the country's growth, as Federico Patellani himself recorded, in January and at the end of May-beginning of June 1946, in images that accompany the texts La vita delle macerie e L'Italie ne danse pas. The two photos from the first report – pedestrians removing rubble with a shovel and these same workers pushing a large wheelbarrow in which they collected the rubble –, reproduced on the website LombardyBeniCulturali, continued to show a present tendency since the report carried out in Ethiopia and Eritrea, in 1935, when Federico Patellani was serving in the army. Some of these images will illustrate a journalistic article by the Milanese daily L'Ambrosiano. As Paola Chiodi pointed out: “In this first experience, the narrative style that will constantly characterize her photographic work is dazzling; a taste for the unfolding of the narrative, also derived from his intense passion for literature”.

And, perhaps, even more of his admiration for the cinema, in whose example photography should look, without letting himself be carried away by the temptation to imitate “composition and chiaroscuros” of painting (in which he had previously been interested), as wrote in "Il giornalista new formula” (1943), adding: “it is necessary to reach a certain automatism, whether in making the apparatus work, or in the taste for framing. And, with regard to the choice of subject, little by little a photographic instinct will form within us. […] speed is the key to good modern photography; if my aspiration to make photographs that seem alive, current, palpitating, as film frames usually are, is right, I believe it is necessary to find in cinema the inspiration for today's photography. […]. 'Motion photography' requires the choice of a narrative moment as only cinematographers have accustomed us to seeing […]”.

This after having summarized how photography was conquering space in newspapers, going from mere illustration to complementing texts and providing the emergence of photojournalism, thanks also to new demands dictated by cinema in readers: “Preceded only by illustrated sports weeklies, it was the documentary and current affairs cinema definitively imposing its taste and its system [...]. If the spectator liked to see a certain event or a certain theme illustrated by a tape commented by the announcer's voice, why couldn't newspapers be produced with the same criteria, rich in photographic material commented by captions and articles? In Italy, the attempt was carried out by Time and the diffusion achieved in Europe by the Italian weekly proves the victory of the formula 'weekly photographic newspaper' also in Italy”.

It was from 1939 onwards that, upon dropping out of law school and dedicating himself once and for all to his profession, Federico Patellani began collaborating with the periodical Time, contributing to the affirmation of a new type of photojournalism in Italy, similar to that practiced by other magazines: the national ones L'Illustrazione Italiana, Omnibus e Today; the french Vu; the germans Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung e Müncher Illustrierte; the english Picture Post; the north americans look e Life, the latter being the great model to be imitated. In the newsroom, he came into contact with prominent figures on the Italian cultural scene: Alberto Mondadori, founder and director of the magazine; Indro Montanelli, editor-in-chief; the then editors Alberto Lattuada and Cesare Zavattini; poets Salvatore Quasimodo and Leonardo Sinisgalli; the designer Bruno Munari, among others.

Despite the specific functions of each contributor, the director of the weekly practically demanded that the photographers also be journalists and these, in turn, should pay for the photographers, because image and text complemented each other, as in the report “Minatori of Carbonia”, signed by the journalist Lamberti Sorrentino, who was also the author of the photos, one of which was printed on the cover of the first issue of the magazine, on June 1, 1939. Thus, phototexts were born, that is, photographic reports in which the image, not more secondary in relation to writing, it gained prominence, while the text became an annotation, of varying lengths, about the photo. Although the term starts to be used from number eight of Time (July 20 of that same year), to refer to the article “La cava di Giuseppino”, by the then journalist Domenico Meccoli, in general, the paternity of the phototext is attributed to Federico Patellani, who knew how to stand out in his field of activity, due to the quality of his images and his comments.

In this new type of journalism, writing could or could not be entrusted to the photographer himself, but redundancies were prohibited: what was told in the photos could not be repeated in the text, which was not always followed by collaborators, as Bruno Munari recalled, emphasizing that photographers understood better what it meant to narrate through images and how to build a text on top of that. And Patellani's case was exceptional because, always in the designer's opinion, “being originally a painter, he knew well what a framing is, what an image is in relation to its space”.

Furthermore, despite that being the period of fascist grandiloquence, the photographer had forged a style in which “simplicity, immediacy, the absence of rhetoric” prevailed, in the words of essayist and critic Goffredo Fofi: “Federico Patellani remains a a very rare example of a photojournalist, thanks to his ability to be both a great photographer and a great journalist, concerned with telling, with objective criteria, what he sees and understands to the widest possible audience, with words and images in strict and reciprocal dependence. His method is honesty, obstinacy, attention to those occasions that require discovery, interest in men and their everyday things, their rites, their environment; it's humility in the face of truth, it's love for a well-made product, it's the fact that you consider yourself to be more of a craftsman than an artist, it's respect for customers, but, before that, for reality”.

The essentiality of his photos in tune with the conciseness and concreteness of his text are at the origin, still according to Fofi, of “a model of journalism that knows how to instinctively establish the right balance, always, between identification and distance, between narrative and morality, between simplicity and complexity”. In it, “the image always prevails, even in the longest articles: the image cannot say everything, but it is what says what is fundamental, and the rest is more information than narrative, more prose than poetry, more complement of the what core”.

1939 was also the year in which Federico Patellani, together with Carlo Ponti, founded the film production company ATA, which will finance little ancient world (1941), by Mario Soldati, of which Alberto Lattuada was one of the screenwriters, in addition to assistant director. Patellani recorded behind the scenes of the making, while the future director photographed locations, set and the main performer, Alida Valli, during breaks in filming. The meeting between the three Lombards (all born in the province of Milan: Patellani was from Monza; Ponti, from Magenta; Lattuada, from Vaprio d'Adda) was recalled in 2002 by the latter, in a text partially reproduced by Giovanna Calvenzi: “I met Federico Patellani in Milan, in the 1930s. We were in Milan and we wanted to make cinema. I came from five years at Polytechnic, he from other schools, especially from other life experiences. We wanted to make cinema in Milan, with producer Carlo Ponti. But cinema, in Milan, did not take off, it was necessary to go to Rome. We always told ourselves: “We have to escape from Milan”. But I alone fled, with Carlo Ponti, after September 8 [1943]. Patellani, instead, stayed and made his extraordinary career as a photographer at Time and in so many other newspapers”.

The collaboration between the photographer and the director continued at the beginning of the following decade, when Alberto Lattuada directed The wolf and Federico Patellani was assistant director, in addition to taking scene and location photos, which later gave rise to the book Matera 1953, signed by both. As a photojournalist for the magazine Time, Federico Patellani had already accompanied the birth of the film Stromboli and the clamorous romance between Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman, creating a series of images that, in part, were part of the article “Tormentato amore allo Stromboli” and, seven decades later, gave rise to the volume Stromboli 1949.

Before the flight of Lattuada and Ponti to Rome in 1941, Federico Patellani, summoned again by the army, went to Russia in the squadron of photographic and cinematographic camera operators, having also shot images for the magazine Time. As a result of the armistice of Cassabile, announced on September 8, 1943, when Italy, upon ceasing hostilities against the Allies, transformed the German armed forces stationed in the country into occupation troops, the photojournalist, like thousands of Italians, was interned in a prison camp in Switzerland until the end of the war, an experience he never failed to document.

Upon returning to Milan, Federico Patellani resumed his photographic and cinematographic activities, also venturing into directing documentaries. In addition to the works mentioned above, in 1954-1955, he made two short films for television in southern Italy – Travel in Magna Grecia e Viaggio nei paesi di Ulisse – and, in 1956, on a long journey in Mexico, Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama) and Ecuador, he traveled the itinerary of the Mayan civilization, driving, in collaboration with the writer Aldo Buzzi , pagan america. This feature film also gave rise, in the following year, to a report with the same title, published in chapters by the magazine Epoca and to the book The Maya (Milan: Aldo Martello Editore).

Although his experience in the field of the seventh art was brief, the photographer's relationship with moving images was always intense from the beginning, as already mentioned and as evidenced by Ennery Taramelli: “More than a fictional cinema, Patellani aspires to a documentary cinema, such as that of Flaherty and, anticipating the realistic results of post-war photography, already advocated, in those years, a documentary vision. His main interest seems to be linked to an image that is the narrative synthesis of a fact or event captured and returned in its essentiality. In this sense, the choice of photography as an image capable of fixing in the instantaneous gesture of clicking a slice of life, captured and surprised in its narrative fact fragrance, will have its most authentic performance in the post-war period. In 1945, when Time will once again be published under the direction of Arturo Tofanelli, Federico Patellani will continue to be the most prestigious personality of the journalistic team. And it will be through the pages of Time that Federico Patellani will narrate post-war Italy, in a series of articles that reflect the devastation of post-war Italian territory, from North to South. The choice to address his visual research to the world of the press and information, if it separates him from the world of authorial photography, makes him a prominent personality for that inflection towards narration that will characterize the photography of Neorealism”.

Without disagreeing with Taramelli's analysis, one cannot fail to observe that some of Federico Patellani's images are capable of suggesting other interpretations. Focusing only on the photographs exhibited in “The summer of 1945 in Italy”, one can highlight, for example, the effect of an almost Caravaggesque light that erupts between the walls of the Doria-Pamphilj palace in Valmontone, or say that the view of the from the top of this same location with the silhouette of the towers of the head office projecting over the half-destroyed houses, in a clever game of light and shadow, added to the selected angle and the choice of what to capture, does not fail to suggest a reading of the image that goes beyond the mere photographic record: that of a threat that still hangs over the place. The same can be said of an image from Acquapendente, especially if the pose of the woman lying down is compared to the spontaneity of the bodies left on the ground during a break from toil in the fields, in midsummer, in photos entitled “Ferragosto” (Comacchio, 1953). , by another neorealist photographer, Pietro Donzelli.

As Eugenio Giannetta pointed out in 2015, when commenting on an exhibition dedicated to Federico Patellani: “To the raw click of the reportage, however, he knew how to mix wisely the lesson of cinema and an unusual artistic sensitivity. For this reason, her portraits are not just testimonies of events, but become a curious and particular look at the world, narrated through a powerful evocative capacity, perfectly represented by the woman lying on her back in front of the carcass of an airplane in 'acquapendente (Viterbo) 1945'. It is not possible to see his face, but the context, the care for details, the slight tension of an almost unnatural and at the same time real posture are enough to be able to affirm that we are facing a larger drawing, thanks to which the mind is free to imagine ”.

The aforementioned photos bring back the exhibition held in São Paulo, on which there are still some repairs to be made. The exhibition itself works, due to the selection and above all due to the strength of the photographic records, and fulfills the role of documenting what is announced in its subtitle: “the journey of Lina Bo in Patellani's photographs”. The same, however, cannot be said of the presentation text, focused on the architect and the description of the photos, with a handful of factual observations and no explanation regarding Pagani and Patellani, except that one was an architect and the other a photographer. , and no data on the publication of the report, which probably did not happen, because in 1946-47 the magazine Domus suspended its activities.

Carlo Pagani could at least have been remembered, in general terms, for the period in which he lived with Lina Bo. The two met in Rome, at the Faculty of Architecture, which he attended in 1938-1939 and where she graduated in 1939. The following year, Lina moved to Milan and started working at the Bo-Pagani studio, at number 12 from the Via del Gesù, destroyed in August 1943 during the bombings that devastated the city. As a former student of Gio Ponti at the Faculty of Architecture in Milan, it was Pagani who, in 1940, introduced the great architect to a colleague, to whom he was linked “by a reciprocal esteem and, probably, by a sentimental friendship”, according to Sarah Catalano. The collaboration between the two ended in 1946, when Lina Bo returned to Rome, where she would marry Bardi.

“The mastery of Federico Patellani, precursor of modern Italian photojournalism” was highlighted only by Michele Gialdroni (director of the Italian Institute of Culture of São Paulo) in the presentation of the folder. If in the leaflet, intended for a general public, the redundancy of Perrotta-Bosch's text in relation to the images can be revealed, by divulging it also in Zum – photography magazine, the author did not bother to provide data on Patellani, who is not well known in Brazil, although his works have already been exhibited at the 3rd International Biennial of Photography in Curitiba, held between October 5th and November 26th, 2000.

There were ten participants in the exhibition “Neorrealism in Italian photography”, each with ten works: Mario De Biasi, Pietro Donzelli, Mario Giacomelli, Nino Migliori, Enrico Pasquali, Tino Petrelli, Franco Pinna, Fulvio Roiter and Enzo Sellerio, in addition to Federico Patellani, who presented photos about the conditions of public transport in Milan, in 1945, when passengers traveled squeezed or hanging from truck beds, and about Carbonia, a mining town founded in 1938 to exploit coal reserves in Sardinia, whose inhabitants, in the post -war, had to face the crisis of the sector. Nine of the images captured during the report were part of the article “The drama of Carbonia”, published by the magazine Time (n. 5, Feb. 4-11, 1950, p. 10-13).

A very significant sample, to which could be added, among many others, the names of Cesare Barzacchi, Carlo Bavagnoli, Gianni Berengo Gardin, Alfredo Camisa, Mario Cattaneo, Pasquale De Antonis, Plinio De Martiis, Caio Mario Garrubba, Sante Vittorio Malli, Cecilia Mangini, Giuseppe Pagano, Stefano Robino, Giacomo Pozzi-Bellini, Ermanno Rea, Antonio Sansone, Nicola Sansone, Ferdinando Scianna, Roberto Spampinato, Pablo Volta and also Alberto Lattuada, who dedicated himself to photography before moving to cinema , having published, in 1941, the book Occhio quadrato, and, why not?, by a young Michelangelo Antonioni, at the time a film critic, who, on April 25, 1939, published in the magazine Cinema, the article “For a film on the Po River”, illustrated by nine photos that he had taken himself, text and images that will be the basis of his first documentary People of the Dust (1943)

Some of the mentioned names had works presented in the exhibition “NeoRealism: the new image in Italy 1932-1960”, held in New York between September 6 and December 8, 2018, at the gallery gray art and at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò. Alongside some 175 images by more than 60 photographers, reports (installed in shop windows, as in the case of “Il dramma di Carbonia”), cinematographic posters, film excerpts or complete works were displayed – Obsession (1943) and to earth terrific (1948), by Visconti, Rome, open city (1945), by Rossellini, bike thieves (1948), by Vittorio De Sica, bitter rice, Mom Rome (1962), by Pier Paolo Pasolini –, and debates, lectures and a catalog were held by Enrica Viganò, curator of the exhibition, with a preface by Martin Scorsese and texts by Fabio Amodeo, Gian Piero Brunetta, Bruno Falcetto and Giuseppe Pinna.

One cannot fail to notice that the dating was expanded with the inclusion of an axis dedicated to Realism during Fascism, when the mass media were at the service of government propaganda, often hiding the true political and socioeconomic conditions of Italy. Therefore, it becomes legitimate to question what was the meaning of the term “realism” in the fascist period and if the prefix “neo-“ referred to a resumption of the realist aspect of the Italian arts or to a new look cast on a reality that, freed from the dictates of the regime, revealed itself in all its crudity. Of course, there were exceptions, such as the report Realizzazioni' del regime: i casoni, carried out between 1936 and 1937 and published in Paris on December 22, 1938, in the socialist magazine The voice of Italian, in which Eugenio Curiel and Fernando De Marzi denounced the precarious conditions of rural workers in the province of Padua (Veneto), who lived with their animals in miserable wattle and daub houses with straw roofs, thus contradicting the extolled apology for country life by the government, or the documentary Il piano delle zitelle (1939), by Pozzi-Bellini, who also challenged the status quo by taking a group of poor, disheveled and tattered pilgrims to the screens, in an unfiltered record.

Commenting on the exhibition in Curitiba, Ana Maria Guariglia, when emphasizing that photographic Neorealism was dedicated to “documenting the lives of real characters”, also noted: “Black-and-white images do not only express the hunger and misery of the people Italian, but the force of life that opens up step by step despite adversity”, establishing, then, a parallel with some films of the same period – from Rome, open city a Rocco and his brothers, through bike thieves, the road from Life (1954), by Federico Fellini, and the straw man (1958), by Pietro Germi, in a slightly less expanded spectrum of the New York exhibition than would be cinematographic Neorealism.

Gialdroni too, when speaking of the journey undertaken in 1945 by the photographer and the two architects, will underline how the image that one has of those years is “of Italy rebuilt in our imagination by neorealist cinema. The images of bombed cities and devastated villages bring to mind the stories of Scuscià quality Paisa”. In fact, the second episode (Naples) and the fourth (Florence) of paisa (1946), by Rossellini, are set in the ruins of two cities devastated by bombings. These are impressive sequences, above all due to the practically documentary style of the shots, which Rossellini will take to the extreme in Germany, year zero (1948), where the wanderings of Edmund, a twelve-year-old boy, through Berlin, reveal all the destruction of the city.

Em The thief (1946), Lattuada also set the opening sequences in the same type of scenario, in which the protagonist, after returning by train from a prison camp in Germany, at the end of the journey in the back of a truck, glimpses the marks of war , and that of his arrival in the courtyard of the building where he lived in Turin, when his gaze travels over all the ruins that remain, in a suggestive 360º panoramic view. These are films that dialogue with works by Federico Patellani that show the damage caused by the world conflict, captured on that 1945 trip and on other occasions.

The two wobbly boys, one of whom is carrying a torn bag over his shoulders, which Pasquali caught from behind in “Children, periphery of Comacchio” (1955), are brothers of the young shoe shiners (sciuscià, corruption of the English term shoe shine), who roamed around Rome covered in rags in victims of the storm (1946) by De Sica. By clicking from the back a Milanese street sweeper pushing a garbage truck, Spampinato in NU (1955) gave his snapshot the same lyrical tone achieved by Antonioni when he narrated the arduous journey of the Roman street cleaners in a 1948 documentary, NU (Urban Nettezza). The shacks erected by Totó and his companions on a vacant lot in Miracle in Milan (1951), by De Sica, are in no way different from those recorded by Patellani on the outskirts of the same city in 1945, where Dino Risi also documented the life of the homeless in the short film Tramps (1946). The sequence of images entitled “Gigione e Mercuri” (1953), in which Pinna photographed a tiny circus troupe showing off to passers-by in Rome, dated back to the road of life (1954), in which Zampanò and Gelsomina, to earn a few bucks, entertained people in the open air.

Although Enrica Viganò, in an interview with Go to the, has stated that “many photographers had the strong poetics of neorealist films imprinted in their eyes”, the examples listed above show that it was not a one-way street, but a more articulated dialogue between the two fields, and this recognition The burning themes that neorealist photographers were able to capture was manifested in another event remembered by the same author: “in the 50s, filmmakers asked photographers for film suggestions and the magazine Cinema New published in each edition a 'Photo-documentary' signed by different photographers with potential ideas for scripts”.

In fact, the photo-documentaries were conceived by film critics Guido Aristarco and Renzo Renzi, director and member of the editorial board of cinema new, respectively, with the aim of providing creative themes to directors still linked to Neorealism, seeking a way out of the crisis of that aspect of Italian cinema. The material was collected in the volume I photodocumentary of Cinema Nuovo (Milan: Cinema Nuovo, 1955), with an introduction by Cesare Zavattini and among his articles stand out “25 Guests” (by Zavattini himself and the American photographer Paul Strand), “The beautiful ones” (by Antonio Ernazza and de Pinna), “Borgo di Dio” (by journalist Michele Gandin and Sellerio, who portrayed a run-down neighborhood in Trappero, a town on the outskirts of Palermo), “It invades” (by photographer Chiara Samugheo and painter Emilio Tadini, updating a report by Pinna and anthropologist Ernesto De Martino on those possessed by the tarantula), “I bambini di Napoli” (by Samugheo and writer Domenico Rea), “L'operaio del porto” (by Tadini and photographer Carlo Cisventi), “I came home like this"(from Mangini),"Narrate Lucania” (by De Martino and filmmaker Benedetto Benedetti) and “Fronte della Libertà” (by film critic Ugo Casiraghi).

In this exchange between the two arts, the images produced by photographers are, in general, more impactful, because by capturing fleeting moments, they placed themselves under the sign of registration and not of representation, to which neorealist fictional films did not escape, although, in moments when a documental tone prevails, naked reality appears on the screen. An exemplary case is The roof (1956), in which De Sica once again focuses on the drama of someone who is forced to invade public land to build his very modest home. After the wedding night in the bride's native village, a young couple returns to Rome by bus.

The camera, which was accompanying the protagonists, left them aside for a few minutes to focus, not through their eyes, but on its own, the landscapes that unfolded through one of the vehicle's windows, first the maritime view and then that one. urban landscape that shapes the periphery of the city. Returning to the central theme of this article, the idea of ​​a neorealist photography subordinated to cinema, therefore, does not hold up. As Fofi pointed out: “Photography, which, between the forties and sixties of the last century, told Italians about their own country and helped them to discover the variety of their own history and culture, so that they could face the common perspectives and contributing to a shared project, it was a great picture. Big, at least, as were, in the same period, cinema and literature, and the survey between the journalistic and the literary. It becomes necessary, then, to consider Patellani's work in this context, of which it is an integral part and of which it ends up being one of the most ripe and beautiful fruits”.

Faced with these last words by Fofi, it is even more surprising that Federico Patellani did not receive any attention at the exhibition in São Paulo, even though it is understood that, for the Brazilian public, it might be more interesting to highlight the presence of Lina Bo on the trip. undertaken in the summer of 1945. With that, the opportunity was lost to honor a great professional, who continued working until his early death in 1977, aged 65, treading several other paths of photography, which were not the subject of this article, where the What was interesting was focusing on his participation in that cultural context teeming with ideas, which were the years of Neorealism.

*Mariarosaria Fabris is a retired professor at the Department of Modern Letters at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Italian cinematographic neorealism: a reading (Edusp).


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