The 1950s and ’60s represent a golden era in Italian film, when directors Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini produced some of their most famous movies. John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Lauren Bacall and Liz Taylor, among other Hollywood stars, also frequented the capital as American filmmakers were lured to Rome by the comparative low cost of its Cinecittà studios, where such epic productions as Ben-Hur(1959) and Cleopatra (1963) were shot. In the evenings the focus of Rome’s movie culture – as well as the lenses of its paparazzi – shifted to the bars and restaurants lining the city’s exclusive Via Veneto, the presence of celebrities like Alain Delon, Kirk Douglas and Audrey Hepburn transforming Rome’s streets into ‘an open-air film set’.
The term paparazzo was taken from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), being the name of a character inspired by a number of real-life photojournalists then active in Rome. These included Marcello Geppetti (1933-1998) from whose astonishing archive of over one million images most of the works on display are drawn – photos that have been seen as transcending the negative public image of this type of journalism. Geppetti has been described as ‘the most undervalued photographer in history’, and comparisons drawn between his work and that of Cartier-Bresson and Weegee. Such images changed the face of photojournalism forever, and challenge us to consider our response to the media’s obsession with celebrity, and the ‘guilty pleasure’ we often take in it ourselves. Juxtaposed with these images of Rome’s real-lifedolce vita are a number of behind- the-scenes shots taken during the filming of the eponymous film by its cameraman, Arturo Zavattini (b. 1930): candid photographs which capture an atmosphere of relaxed creativity on the set of Fellini’s landmark film.