In the early 1960s, Bruno Barbey, seeking to depict the Italians, photographs all strata of society in the street as well as in the interiors. The young photographer presented this collection of images to Robert Delpire, who immediately offered to publish them in the “Encyclopédie essentielle” series, a collection of books juxtaposing text and images, which already included Robert Frank’s Les Américains (1958) and René Burri’s Les Allemands (1962).
As Giosuè Calaciura writes in his preface, “These photos are both literature and cinema, an account of Italians that seems the work of an Italian, whether Carlo Levi in Words are Stones or Luchino Visconti in Rocco and his brothers. Or Pasolini. In Italy, Bruno Barbey feels like a man of the South among men of the South. An affectionate feeling of belonging is apparent in these shots where we see individuals trying to renew the broken threads of social and private life, to turn the page after the parenthesis of the war that called everything into question by sweeping away certainties and chronic despair. An opportunity to erase what one was with the promise of what will be.
Circumstances at the time prevented the book from being produced, but the portfolio of Italian photographs convinced the members of the Magnum Photos agency of the potential of the young Barbey, who was quickly accepted into the cooperative. After decades of work and numerous volumes on other countries, Barbey finally published a first version of this work in 2002, with an introduction by Tahar Ben Jelloun, long since out of print.