In the Italy of the 1970s, when the political and moral influence of the Democrazia Cristiana was still present in customs and social life, a prominent figure emerged in Italian photography, more precisely in erotic and nude photography. Before the sexual revolution, which certainly brought new perspectives but at the same time demolished a secret and pure sharing of the libido, came to the Italian peninsula, Tony Patrioli had brought to light the erotic desires and the unveiling of young Italian men’s beauty.
Patrioli’s photographs can be placed in a borderline era: for centuries, Italian peasant society placed sexuality as a pure privilege linked to the adult world. In doing so, young people between the adolescent and adult phases were excluded from a (hetero)sexual life; in this context homosexuality was seen as a “lesser evil”, to be exploited as the only way to enjoy one’s youth. The ‘availability’ of young people in archaic and rural Italy was thus known throughout urbanised Europe.
It was a readiness not only to give, but also to perform. If in a patriarchal and heteronormative society the object of gaze and – consequently of desire – was the woman, the man was not expected to play this passive role. This youth felt pride and pleasure in seeing their bodies (which in the view of the time no one considered “beautiful”) admired, since beauty was a characteristic that “belonged” to women, not to boys.
Tony Patrioli began photographing as an amateur in 1965, immediately choosing the male nude as the subject of his images. In the beginning, the photos were taken purely for private pleasure and the models were his lovers. In the mid-1970s he was offered the opportunity to produce images for publication, and Patrioli began to publish his first softcore photographs in the monthly magazine ‘Homo’.
The most famous collection “Mediterraneo” was published in 1984. In this project, Patrioli captured something that seemed long lost in today’s society: young Mediterranean men, mostly heterosexual, who were comfortable in their bodies and willing to show themselves to the world even in poses that could be seen as exciting and homoerotic. They are notes that fixate on the beauty of the young man, who in some cases was also the photographer’s lover, while in others he was a young man met on the street, perhaps one of Pasolini’s last ‘ragazzi di vita’.
Tony Patrioli cultivated the art of the nude, obviously inspired by the photography of Wilhelm von Gloeden, a 19th century German photographer best known for his pastoral nude studies of Sicilian boys. Asked why Gloeden had such an impact on him, Patrioli replied: “Because Gloeden was the only male nude photographer who was not banned in Italy at the time and because his imagery partly coincided with my own. The photos of American bodybuilders seemed too far removed from the world and the boys I saw around me“. The world Patrioli photographed was on the verge of oblivion and its demise was imminent. If you follow the books over the years, you can even see a physical evolution in the models. And not just in their hair (long hair was fashionable in the early 1970s), but also in their bodies and poses. The new fashion of the gymnasium appeared: some bodies began to be more ‘constructed’. Above all, looks and poses appear that betray an awareness of male nudity, which is increasingly explicit and ever more ubiquitous, and which was first disseminated in those years thanks to fashion advertisements. And the wild ‘innocence’ of boys, increasingly self-conscious, disappears.