Overground Magazine

Rome 1982 – 1985.



Dark Portraits. Rome 1982 – 1985.
A dialogue with Dino Ignani

Text | Achille Filipponi

Photo | Dino Ignani


For  years, Dino Ignani followed the dark community throughout their nightlife in and out of the most famous Roman clubs such as Olimpo, Executive, Black Out, Espero, Piper or Uonna Club. It was a stubborn and systematic photographic research, in which every single detail acquired a great importance, especially after a long time. One of the most important principle that rules the world of photography is that photography reveals itself and its importance only after some time, and here we have an example. Documentary painting is a further proof of this theory: the work usually takes a long time, the photographer is meticulous, his gestures repetitive and he is perfectly aware that perhaps, his work of art will be appreciated after years. Ignani counts on years of work in Rome and more than 400 images produced, during which he never gave up. He was perfectly aware that it was going to be hard, but once the project was completed the big general photography would have made the difference In spite of an arid and simplified visual organization, he endowed his project with a more complex framework; in fact, if we look at Dark Portraits, we immediately understand that Ignani imposes a certain distance by using a fix shooting technique; and the audience, on their side, will be asked to do the same methodic exercise, by concentrating and the details of each image. Augustus Sander taught this principle to us more than one century ago: avoid the exaggerated attention given to the context surrounding the subject, and let the subject itself be the image.


In this way we highlight also the ability of the photographic tool to catch what is human. There is a clear heritage from the master from Hereford, but there are also deep differences. Ignani, being an Italian photographer, takes his own poetic licenses, so arms are loosed in a typical belle-epoque attitude, almost reminding  Ziegfeld Follies, the smiles are engaging and if you forget the method for a while you get lost in the dazzling smiles and naïve postures. So we find few but powerful hints of sentimentalism, like overwhelming hugs and winking, through which the subject reveals the fragility of his personality and of his dreams. Dino Ignani takes us through a soft and tender eroticism, thus confirming that the portrait is an image of itself.  In the end it can be seen as a photo, but not just a photo but a projection of an identity in the 80’s. Another main difference with respect to the German demiurge, is that, in spite of the anthropological goals, he does not distinguish among typologies, but he restricts the research to a specific human field, by detecting the small differences from the inside. In contrast with Sander, the social ranking is not the criterion, the common denominator; here the mechanism is just the opposite: the research focusses firstly on the “dark” as cross cultural phenomenon that involves totally different people. If we give a look at the shots, we can say it is true, because, as Douglas Pierce claims if “the best that there can be is the thought of what we will never be”, the great desire of being something or someone involves everyone, from the typical Parioli dwellers showing off their cache-mire pullovers up the goth living in the outskirts who dreams of being a star for one night. At that time, the photos were published on the magazine Rockstar and were commented by Roberto d’Agostino- whose texts appeared again in the book published by Yard Press – a crackling and detailed description, considering that it was written at the same time the photographic job was carried out. Here we find a very interesting passage: “The portraits by Dino Ignani give concreteness to  a restless quest for  identity, seduction and communication. These faces look at us and say: You see, I have an image, therefore I am, I exist. A need of definition of one’s identity, that in the past was fulfilled by the ideological parties. (…) these photos convey a sort of advertising naivety, in which each photographed subject becomes manager of himself and of his own appearance. An element on which it is important to concentrate: everyone can dream or pretend to be everyone. Is not it  the most radical of the democratization, the image and the dream?


It’s true, in Dark Portraits the body reveals itself and a projection of its hopes. It a list of desires made by buttons done up or not, barely ironed dandy jackets and perfect make ups. It portraits Rome and its struggle to be something after 77- it probably succeeded, even if it  for a short time. Those who didn’t live in those years and look at it now are fascinated and disoriented at the same time. Everything is so beautiful and it is about to die like a recently cut flower.

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