There’s an exploration of celebrity in these black-and-white photos of screen stars taken in Italy during the 1950s and ‘60s. It was an era of glamour, when a string of Hollywood stars were in Rome, to film as well as to party on and around the Via Veneto in the evenings. There are also photos of Italian staples such as Sophia Loren and the directors Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini.
It’s striking how most of the images look far more staged than the equivalent would be today in the era of the selfie. It’s also intriguing how fame endures for some and not for others. Brigitte Bardot is strongly represented in the show, in a variety of different outfits and wigs; her star has definitely waned. In contrast, Audrey Hepburn’s appeal remains intact. It’s also striking how often some stars changed partners, for a variety of reasons. There are photos of Rock Hudson with a succession of beards (that is, his companions rather than his facial hair), whereas Alain Delon looks far more comfortable with a whole selection of women.
Clearly, a number of the photos have been taken with a very long lens – a topless Brigitte by the pool, and that famous photo of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton mid-snog while lying on top of a boat. Indeed, the final few photos demonstrate that celebrity exasperation with paparazzi isn’t just a phenomenon of the digital age; the word paparazzo was coined from a character name in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, appropriately enough for this exhibition. A series of shots show a clearly peeved Anita Ekberg pointing a bow and arrow at a photographer, before attacking him, pushing his camera aside and pulling his hair. When celebrities went bad in the 1960s, they went really bad.
It’s interesting to think about modern ‘stars’ and how enduring their appeal might or might not be now that camera phones have democratised the art of celebrity snaps. Hopefully, it means that in the year 2064 we won’t have photos of Justin Bieber staring back at us from the walls of an art gallery.
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