from Domenica da Collezione, insert of Il Sole 24ORE, 3 November 2013
He was without name for many years, protected by a Hasselblad covering his face. You could only see the profile and the hands, always beautiful and elegant in photographers, wrapped to the camera and the lens as a corolla. All around him, many famous personalities such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Lenin, Nilde Iotti, Leonid Brežnev, Pietro Ingrao, Giancarlo Pajetta and, shoulder to shoulder, Renato Guttuso, as to support a common project, painting and photography living, testifying and reminding together. For more than 40 years, this mysterious presence lived in the shadow, disguised by the crowd in pain animating the huge canvas with Togliatti’s funeral, painted by Guttuso in 1972. Now he has a face, a voice and an extraordinary story that Mario Carnicelli, 76 years old from Atri, native of Abruzzi and Tuscan of adoption, decided to tell for the first time on the occasion of this exhibition. He is the photographer that from 22 to 25 August 1964, during the three days which stopped Italy’s communist heart, documented with an incredible intensity and modernity the participation to the PCI (Italian Communist Party) leader’s funeral. He found the Sicilian artist in the half-light and in the tension of the sorrow and shot one of his most significant portraits. And finally it’s him that Renato Guttuso, with downcast eyes, nearly closed, decided to paint next to him in his masterpiece. He was a 27 years old photographer who wanted to immortalize the famous and anonymous protagonists of those three days of passion with the strength, the calm and the sumptuousness of the large format. Those amazing 6x6, those beautiful images here collected, which represent today a precious gift to the history of the country. Beyond all political choices, in fact, Mario Carnicelli’s pictures speak about Italy, a country once believing in politics and in the right/duty to politics, a country defending the necessary existence of politics and used to mirror itself in the serious and dignified beauty of politics. And it is no accident that such a profound feeling was represented by the photographer, as the country he depicted, through a three-generation history, from the socialist battles to the war, from Resistance to peace. A story that the management of the PCI in Pistoia knew well, as it was well aware of the important work Carnicelli dedicated to the faces and the gestures of the crowd at political meetings and at the Unity festivals. When the funerals occurred, the management remembered about all this and called him. “The news about Togliatti’s death, at Artek’s camp in Yalta, spread on 21 August 1964, a Friday. The following day the psalm arrived in Ciampino and immediately thousands of people moved by train and by bus from every Italian region to get to homage him. I was there, together with the Members of the Parliament of Pistoia Communist Party. When we arrived in Rome, we went to Botteghe Oscure where I was introduced to Sandro Curzi, who gave me permission to take pictures within the burial chamber. Only later other photographers arrived,” Carnicelli said. One of the first people portrayed is Renato Guttuso keeping watch to the coffin, and the photographer let the fixity of his eyes and the serious composure of his figure emerge from the black velvet background and converse with the movement of the bodies and the people out of focus moving in front of the coffin. “Looking at those faces, hundreds of them, in a continuous flow from the streets of the city to the burial chamber, I imagined seeing also my grandfather’s face, Francesco Carnicelli. If I portrayed Togliatti’s funeral, I owe it to him.” “My grandfather was born in Atri, he worked ebony, but he was also a revolutionary in his own way, and in the 1905 he directed the newspaper La Voce dei Socialisti, four pages of union struggles and strikes. As a result, every time the king passed in Abruzzi, he was thrown to jail. And of course, with such a father, my own father had the same ideas. But he changed his job because in Milan, where he went during World War I as one of the last “ragazzi del ’99 (boys from ’99), he entered the atelier of a photographer and once he got back to Atri he opened his own studio. Then he joined the PCI and took part in the Resistance, as a courier between Rome and the Partisans fighting in Abruzzi.” Also the Polish general Wladyslaw Anders knew about Augusto Carnicelli’s communist militancy. In 1939, the General fought to defend his country against the Soviet invasion, he was captured and tortured at Lubjanka – Palmiro Togliatti was in Moscow in the same period – and he was freed by the Germans and then fled to London. He was appointed by the Allies as chief of Polish II Army Corps which fought in Italy in 1944 also during the Battle of Montecassino. “When he arrived at Atri, the General, a true anti-communist, prohibited his soldiers to be photographed by my father and he had it written clearly on the walls of his studio,” continued Carnicelli. “But maybe Anders did not know that my father had hidden and saved a couple of Jewish photographers and that, after the war, when he was forced to run away because he had the podestà arrested, they hosted him in Varese. From there, he went to Pistoia where he opened a new studio and where he was reached by my two elder brothers and, in 1949 by my mother and I.I might also need to speak about my mother, Antonietta Restaneo, who was communist too and that during my father’s absence became a great photographer. And I can say that during the days of Togliatti’s funeral in Rome, I saw many brave and strong women as she was, farmers, workwomen, students, coming from all over Italy and abroad. Many of them came from Belgium: they were Marcinelle widows.” In line behind the barriers circumscribing via delle Botteghe Oscure, Mario Carnicelli found entire families as his own, grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, small children held in arms or by the hand. It’s the portrait of an Italy which did not applaud during the funerals but wore its best dress, also the Prince of Wales check, even if made of wool and it was summer time, and if necessary had a white shirt borrowed, even if too large. It is an Italy still wearing petticoats and when it tiptoed the white edge emerged from the black of the skirt, and then made the sign of the cross even if wearing a red kerchief around the neck. And it is an Italy that wrapped packages in the newspapers and closed them with the string, and kept the shopping in a net and l’Unità and Rinascita in a pocket. But, especially, it is an Italy “that had a no-longer existing gaze. That was enough, more than symbols, more than the hammer and sickle, to march in front of the coffin and pay homage to it,” goes on Carnicelli. “And the crowd lived its pain, so real, not moving, upstanding, in silence. Politics meant also being there, standing, resisting and testifying with one’s own story a greater story. And Togliatti, who wrote in the last days of his life the memoirs on Yalta, starting the Italian Socialism, conveyed this sense of belonging at least to three generations.” Finally, 25 August arrived, the day of the funeral, “and then composure became oceanic, one million people in piazza San Giovanni. After a while the clenched fists were raised and it was a liberating gesture which broke the tension of that long waiting,” said Carnicelli. “And it was also one of my last pictures. Then I got back to Botteghe Oscure, waiting for the events.” That very same evening Luigi Longo was appointed as Secretary of the Party, “and I was called to take his official picture, a colour slide, 6x6, since I was the only one to have that material. I took the picture, gave them the roll of film, but I never saw my pictures again.” Late that night the return exodus started. On the ground, in a beautiful image by Mario Carnicelli, there were the flowers, roses and carnations, the homage of a country that still believed in the dignity of ideas and in their priority to build the future.
Mario Carnicelli was born in Atri in 1937. When he was twelve, he moved with his family to Pistoia, attending his father’s photographic studio. More keen on documentary photography than on commercial activity, he worked as freelance photo-journalist and specialist reporter, developing also personal research projects. In 1966, he won a grant which gave him the chance to travel to USA, where he got back many times to realise an original and important work. He worked for many magazines and journals among which: Espresso, Panorama, Corriere della Sera, Il Giorno, Popular Photography, La Nazione. He cooperated with the Ethnology Institute of the University of Perugia. He exhibited in Europe and in USA, at “Interkamera” in Prague, at SICOF Milan, at Pirelli skyscraper in Milan, at the Cantiere Sperimentale dell’Immagine in Florence, at Johns Hopkins University in Bologna. He currently lives and works in Pistoia.