The Italians Turn Around, Milan, 1954

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“Gli italiani si voltano” (The Italians turn around) was taken by photographer Mario De Biasi in Milan in 1954. The image shows a group of men who turned at the arrival of a shapely Moira Orfei, who was then considered the queen of the Italian circus.

© Mario de Biasi

In this photograph, chosen as the poster image for the 1994 Guggenheim Museum exhibition The Italian Metamorphosis, 1943-1968, De Biasi playfully engages with the social construct and cliché of the Italian male gaze. A lone woman, sheathed in a tight-fitting white dress, marches directly into a seemingly impenetrable sea of men, who are riveted by her approach, although her reaction is hidden from our own scrutiny. Di Biasi’s composition abounds with curves: the cropped bicycle tire, the bumpers of the car and scooter, the heads of the men, the undulating walk of the woman. Even the sign reading “zucca,” contains echoing curves, and has a double meaning in Italian: pumpkin, and an empty head.

Born in Belluno, Italy, De Biasi began his long, illustrious career as a photographer when he was deported during World War II to Nuremberg, Germany, and discovered an old camera in a heap of rubble on a city street. He eventually became an important figure in the postwar Neorrealismo Italiano movement. As photographer for the publication Epoca, he worked on assignments all over the world and was named Maestro of Italian Photography by FIAF (Italian Federation of Photography Associations). A friend said of De Biasi: “He photographed revolutions and famous people, unknown countries … the camera has now become part of his anatomy like the nose and the eyes.”

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