Naples down under

How they live and die in Naples. It was quite a collaboration. A great Italian film director interviewed his fellow citizens, while a leading German photographer recorded them. The result was a poignant document of humanity and heartbreak that very much recalls what Studs Terkel was to do in his Working book.

As a boy Vittorio de Sica learned to relish the teeming sights and sounds of Naples from his aunt’s windows in the Via Martiri d’Otranto, opposite a jail and a bordello. Much later, renowned as actor-director-producer-writer and the maker of such films as Shoeshine, Bicycle Thief, Miracle in Milan, The Gold of Naples, and Two Women, he returned to his haunts not to photograph but simply to look and hear once again- stopping old neighbors, neighbors’ sons, and passers-by high and low, to have them tell their stories and let him write them down.

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Below: My name? Gennaro Barattolo. I’m 12. Thank God I’m through with primary school; now I’m learning to be a glass cutter. My dad wanted me to be a fisherman like himself; but that’s a poor business, especially in winter. I’ve got other ideas. The police have picked me up four times already for going swimming practically naked: I wonder what they’ve got against me.

Herbert List photograph. Read More:

With de Sica went Hamburg born Herbert List, already famed for psychological camera studies on several continents, and also out to catch telling, individual images here. The two made a unique team: as photographer List wrote, ” day and night we walked the streets, always finding something new. For the Neapolitans De Sica is an idol. As soon as the spotted him, people came shouting ‘Vittorio, Vittorio!’. But when he approached them directly, they answered with great respect, addressing him by his title, Commendatore, while he asked them as to their name, occupation, history, and took all this down.”

Below: I learned my trade on the first Singer sewing machines that came here. That was when I was 10. For fifty years I have been sewing at just this spot- low priced women’s things for people of the quarter. Everybody knows me here. Nothing really changes in these streets. You just have to imagine carriages in place of cars to think back to what things looked like here half a century ago.

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The De Sica-List documentary, ranged from a coachman driving a hearse along the waterfront to tearful farewell to relatives aboard a ship bound for South America. In each instance the words were set down by De Sica. The entire collection, with its glints of happier moments along the way, eventually found its way into book form in the United States in the early 1960′s.

Below: I’m called Mimmo Leonbruno, and I can sing the whole lyric and dramatic repertory. My specialty is old Neapolitan songs: older people like to hear me do them at weddings and such, though the younger ones prefer music they can dance to. I’m employed in the city building office: it’s my luck that I can make extra money by singing. On a good night I may get 5,000lire for four or five numbers. Of course, there’s always trouble with the waiters, who want to get things over with as soon as possible and make a racket while I’m making music….

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Herbert List photographer. Read More:

Below:My name is Gennaro and I’ve been driving hearses for forty years. We have several classes of them: Luxury, Special, and then also first, second and third. The client can have as many horses as he can pay for, up to ten. My company works out of the Salita di Via Nuova del Campo, and we’ve got three luxury coaches- “Milan”, “Scarpetta,” and “Enrico Pessina”- and two thers, including a white one for children. Sometimes this is used for grownups, too, when relations want to make a special point of the purity of the late beloved.

ITALY. Naples. 1958.
Hearse on the promenade in front of the Fountain of Santa Lucia.
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(see link at end)…In Hamburg, he befriended the young photographer Andreas Feininger, the first son of Lyonel Feininger, and took his own place among the city’s artistic and social avant-garde as a photographer. Feininger introduced him to the Rolleiflex, a more sophisticated camera facilitating deliberate composition of his images. Under the influence of the surrealist movement on one side and Bauhaus artists on the other, List starts to develop his own style.

—ITALY. Naples. 1960.
Dolls’ doctor.
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…List also became an acquaintance of the young English writer Stephen Spender, who was to draw upon him in creating the character Joachim in his autobiographical novel The Temple (written in 1929, but not published until 1988). The novel is about a young man who travels to Germany and finds a culture at once more open than England – particularly about relationships between men – and showing frightening anticipations of Nazism….

…In a photograph known as Ritti with Rod (below), a young boy is set against a clear sky, his crouching form holding a single metal pole. His blond hair hangs freely in a pose that brilliantly captures the spirit of the Jugendbewegung, a popular romantic, nature oriented, anti-bourgeois movement that would later be transformed and exploited by the Nazis.

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In 1935, with the situation in Germany becoming unbearable, List handed the family business over to his brother and relocated to Paris, where he had his first photographic exhibition. Because of his Jewish family descent, List was not allowed to publish or work officially in Germany. The images created in Paris, notably his Female Slaves series will be compared later to the paintings of Max Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico. List becomes the most prominent photographer representative of a style called fotografia metafisica. During the mid thirties, two other German emigrĂ©s in Paris, Hans Bellmer and Wols, also successfully used the motif of mechanized dolls….

…From 1936 to 1940, working for Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and Life as a photographer of celebrities, List traveled regularly between Greece, Italy, and Paris until the outbreak of World War II, when he settled in Greece to evade the German occupation of France. After the German army invaded Greece, List was forced to return to Germany. He settled in Munich, but in 1944, though part-Jewish and known as a homosexual, he was drafted into the military. He served as a map designer in Norway. Read More:

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