In the early 1960s, Bruno Barbey, seeking to portray Italians, photographed all layers of society in the street as well as in interiors. The young photographer presented this set of images to Robert Delpire, who immediately offered to publish them in the “Essential Encyclopedia” series, a collection of books juxtaposing texts and images, which already included Robert Frank’s The Americans (1958) and the project of Germans by René Burri (1962).

As Giosuè Calaciura writes, “These photos are both literature and cinema, an account of Italians that seems to be the work of an Italian, whether Carlo Levi in ​​Words are Stones or Luchino Visconti in Rocco and His Brothers. Or even Pasolini. In Italy, Bruno Barbey feels he is a man from the South among men from the South. An affectionate feeling of belonging shines through in these shots where we see individuals trying to reconnect the broken threads of social and private life, to turn the page after the parenthesis of the war which called everything into question by sweeping away the certainties like chronic despair. An opportunity to erase what we were with the promise of what will be.”

The circumstances of the time prevented the realization of the book, but the portfolio of Italian photographs convinced the members of Magnum of the potential of the young Barbey, who was quickly accepted into the cooperative. After decades of work and many volumes on other countries, Barbey finally published a first version of this work in 2002, with an introduction by Tahar Ben Jelloun, long out of print.

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