Italian Modernist Photography Level 4: Room 3

Alfredo Camisa Urban Alphabet S, 1959 printed 2005

Alfredo Camisa
Urban Alphabet S, 1959 printed 2005
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, 305 x 405 mm
© Estate of Alfredo Camisa

This selection of work by four key photographers represents some of the most innovative movements in Italian photography, from the late 1930s to the early 1960s.

Until the early 1940s photography in Italy was dominated by a pictorial aesthetic that accorded with the values of the Fascist government. Alternative styles developed fragmentarily, in isolation from modernist practices developing elsewhere in Europe. The advent of new democratic society and the end of the Second World War, however, ushered in a period of renewal for the medium, invigorated by foreign publications and exhibitions of work from abroad which began to appear in Italy.

At the centre of this activity were photo-clubs, which met to discuss ideas, organise exhibitions and publish manifestos. Two of the most influential clubs were La Bussola, founded in 1947 by Luigi Veronesi, Giuseppe Cavalli and others, and La Misa, formed by Cavalli in 1953. Their differing approaches embodied the two conflicting tendencies that were at the heart of debate around new directions for the medium at the time.

La Bussola insisted on photography’s position as an autonomous art form, beyond being a tool of reportage. Its members emphasised a rigorous approach to composition, technique and formalist experiment.

The younger generation associated with La Misa, by contrast, combined formal considerations with the social documentary practice developing elsewhere in Europe and the USA. The subjective, expressionist approach of photographers such as Piergiorgio Branzi and Alfredo Camisa depicted a changing Italy, from the harsher conditions of life in the south to the modernising effects of the post-war economic and industrial boom. 

Curated by Simon Baker and Emma Lewis

Text by Emma Lewis

The works in this display are a promised gift of Massimo Prelz Oltramonti

[The Anita Zabludowicz Gallery]