"Blessed photos!" writes Carmelo Bene in his autobiography, remembering the incident that took place during a performance of Cristo 63, for which he was tried for indecent exposure and acquitted thanks to the photographs taken by Claudio Abate.
The Palazzo delle Esposizioni has decided to mark the tenth anniversary of Bene's death with a tribute, to the copious archive of photographs taken by Claudio Abate of this key figure in contemporary Italian theatre. The most incisive images have been included in the show, once more in a somehow redemptive capacity given that, for the most part, they remain the only known visual testimony of certain works.
Claudio Abate and Carmelo Bene met very young, in 1959, in one of the few hangouts offered by Rome's nightlife at the time. Bene had already directed a number of significant productions, all of which had somehow fulfilled the promise of that happy and radical period in theatre that elevated it during the course of the Sixties into an exemplary art form. Abate was already within the art milieu, photographing sculptors and painters, particularly those young artists that were on the threshold of challenging the very techniques and concept of traditional art. He therefore immediately discerned the exceptional nature of Bene's theatre and became his stage photographer. Over a period of ten years, from 1963 to 1973, Abate took all the shots of nine productions in Rome, both for the performances and backstage - Cristo 63, Salomè da e di Oscar Wilde, Faust o Margherita, Pinocchio '66, Il Rosa e il Nero, Nostra Signora dei Turchi, Salvatore Giuliano, Arden of Feversham, Don Chisciotte, as well as the stills for the feature film Salomè.
All the images on display have been subjected to a meticulous restoration process. The black and white images were hand printed from negatives onto baryta-coated silver gelatin paper (except for the negatives for Cristo 63, which were confiscated by the judiciary). The colour images are digital prints taken from slides using an ink-jet printer onto baryta-coated paper. The photographs have been grouped according to the production for which they were taken and are ordered chronologically. Each group is preceded by a text written by Francesca Rachele Oppedisano introducing the visitor to the themes developed within each dramatisation and, in some cases, to episodes that accompanied it or to its reception by critics. The captions list the actors by name, with the part they played in brackets, proceeding from left to right and omitting the names of those that we have unfortunately not been able to identify. Where the name of the character has been omitted, this is because - as often happened in Bene's productions - it was impossible to establish it as an individual and clear-cut role.
Taken as a whole, these images offer a meaningful insight into the inner workings of the theatre of Bene With exemplary clarity - as is characteristic of Abate's work - the shots have captured both figures and objects in relation to the stage. They enable us to witness some of the famous inventions that Bene introduced in various aspects of his work such as the lighting, the importance he gave to costumes, elements of makeup such as his recurring use of mosaic masks, as well as the on stage presence of props such as beds, mannequins and frames. But above all, as Jean-Paul Manganaro has written in the catalogue, these shots are evidence of those particular moments in which Carmelo Bene grasped the power of his own decisions on stage, those decisions that were destined to be reused time and time again, in a constantly evolving programme of development and research.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Skira, with entries by Jean-Paul Manganaro, Daniela Lancioni and Francesca Rachele Oppedisano.