Stephan Brigidi: ROME 1970S A Decade of Turbulent Change

Published on 07/31/ 2019

The aftermath of WWII found Western Europe in shambles. Italy had suffered tremendously throughout the country. Although Rome itself was spared much of the bombings of the war, its citizens were nearly starved to death by the occupying invading forces. Late in 1944, the city was freed by the US and allied forces were welcomed by a desperate populous.

Soon bolstered by the new Marshall Plan, Rome and greater Italy were able to begin a resurrection in rebuilding the economy and culture. The 50s and 60s found Rome as the epic center of the country’s revival. The resilience of the Italian people found a new spirit of pride and celebration with a new-found creative prosperity.

Rome in the 1970s began to shift, moving from an innocent “la dolce vita” existence to a more hardened reality. With my first visit there in 1972 as a student, I observed people mostly carrying on with life in a simple fashion. But change was in the air with an internal migration of the still deprived southern people, moving northward to the urban centers for work.

Manufacturing in the north was offering jobs and opportunities, with Rome beginning to absorb new arrivals with its borders expanding. Tourism began to really thrive by the early 70s, along with a growing political corruption by rival parties unwilling to cooperate.

By 1975, my young Roman friends were complaining about the lack of true professional opportunities. Unemployment began to rise and dissent was expressed in frequent demonstrations and strikes, and worse what followed was domestic terrorism.

The later 1970s found the rise of the notorious Red Brigades, a determined group of college dropouts and dissolutioned outcasts, seeking a general revolution of the corrupt system of the central Roman government. Tensions increased throughout the country, brought on by the shock of fallen political, social, and cultural leaders and their followers. A good meal and a simple song, no longer seemed to suffice for the Roman temperament. This age of post-war revival and innocence was over.

I never thought of my photography of Rome to be strictly documentary. I did street work in recording what I found in the people and local color. I continued to use models as I had been doing, more fascinated with the female form in contriving some theater of my own. When restless for found subject matter, I turned to making my own still life, inspired by the masters.

I was able to expose my film and make some prints in the few, found borrowed darkrooms. I experienced first-hand, interrogation by an angry frustrated policeman, whom ultimately extended forgiveness and understanding to me.

For me, there was a distinct family connection to Roman life. My own Italian blood stirred an understanding and balance, where I was able to mingle among the varying class divisions. It was about family. Anna, the maid was my friend, with Santina, the Signora of the house, becoming my watchful Roman mother. I learned that I could not discuss one with the other, let alone acknowledge or share these relationships.

I simply lived them as the days rolled by and I made my many photographs. Rome of the 1970s proved to be a startling, wonderful mix of the bella and the brutta. It took me years to somehow reconcile it all in this simple book, supported with some of my descriptive activities, made better by the words of Dodaro and Tanga joining me in a dance of Rome 1970s.