• Charlotte Chapple

Smiles and Malice’s - An Italian Exhibition

Smiles and Malice’s - An Italian Exhibition

Happy Years, the Donne Brescia Photo Festival


It was the Wednesday of our week long trip to Lake Garda, Italy. The week was fast coming to a close and my parents and I had decided to spend the day locally in the town of Desenzano, to enjoy the White Nights festival. After having lunch and watching the greasy pole competition at the old port we visited the Happy Years exhibition for Donne Brescia photo festival 2019 as our resort representative had previously recommended it to us.


The exhibitions full title was “Happy Years. Smiles And Malice’s In The Myth Of Betty Page And In The World of Pin Up” and was curated by Renato Corsini and Francesco Fredi. The exhibition was held in a small set of open space rooms just of from the old port and covered a single floor. The exhibition explores the history of “pin ups’ from the First World War to the modern day and explores themes of symbolism of a natural and non-artificial femininity. American model Bettie Page, who gained a significant profile in the 1950s for her pin-up photos is the subject of many of the images used in the exhibition. The reason so many of her images are included is because she undermined the social hypocrisies surrounding pin ups, becoming the unsuspecting champion of a sexual freedom destined to characterise the years to follow. 


The exhibition, together with the images of Bettie Page taken by Paula Claw, alongside publications and original period documents is a great representation of the development, growth and change of pin ups. But how does this have any relevance in Italy, when pin ups, to my knowledge, were a very American thing? Well, as of more recent times Italy has produced homegrown imitations of pin ups that, referring to the masters of graphics such as Alberto Vargas and Gil Elvgren, import that kind of female image that is easy to find even today in several Italian advertisements. During my trip to the exhibition I also learnt that many Italian photographers have explored the myth and story of pin up photography; from Dita Von Teese in the shots by Peter W. Czernich to today's revaluation of the Burlesque style made by Maurizio Marcato. Images that find space in the exhibition are accompanied by texts that contextualise their importance as a custom phenomenon.


I found this exhibition very eye opening. I have very little knowledge on the history of pin ups, and never really gave it proper thought as a photography style. When first entering the exhibition, I can’t deny that I found the abundance of provocative images rather off putting and a little unnerving at first, and as most accompanying text was in Italian I found it very difficult and challenging to understand what the curators intentions where. However, after walking around and seeing all the work several times I was able to get the gist of what it was about and became slightly intrigued by the exhibition as a whole. Whilst I do still believe I missed out on some of the key points of the exhibition due to language barrier, I am very content with how the exhibition revealed a new genre of photography to me and opened my eyes to a new world I knew very little of before.


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