By Richard B. Woodward
The mood of Italy after 1945 was one of dazed bewilderment as people struggled to repair their lives after more than two decades of dictatorial rule, several years of ruinous battles and bombings, followed by humiliating defeat. Lingering guilt over the nation’s complicity with Fascism, rising levels of poverty and alienation in wounded cities and villages, the cultural rift between the industrial North and the rural (and rampantly illiterate) South, the shrinking role of the Catholic Church and its tense relationship to a resurgent Communism—these were some of the themes dramatized in the novels and plays of Cesare Pavese, Elio Vittorini, Carlo Levi, Vasco Pratalini, Ennio Flaiao, and Alberto Moravia and, more prominently, in the early films of Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Alberto Lattuada, Giuseppe De Santis, Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Federico Fellini.
Why photographers, who were in the vanguard of these efforts, are so unknown outside Italy (and even within it) is one of the mysteries that curator Enrica Viganó and the essayists in the catalog have sought to answer and to redress. The illuminating exhibition will be a crash course in post-war Italian cultural history for most Americans, introducing them to dozens of unfamiliar names.