A Bid for Direct Representation: Creative Participation in Franco Vaccari’s Photomatic d’Italia

This essay investigates emerging conceptions of citizenship, self-expression, and the politics of identity formation in post-1968 Italy. Citizenship was in crisis as public disaffection towards the government and state institutions soared. Youths, in particular, felt a complete loss of faith in the system of representational democracy. Turning their restlessness into a productive force, many citizens sought alternative forms of active participation in civic affairs and advocated self-representation. Italian artist Franco Vaccari recognized the creative power of this social momentum and organized a groundbreaking project entitled Photomatic d’Italia in 1973. Using the photobooth as a democratic device, he asked the general public to donate their photo strips to his venture. The artist gave anyone willing to participate the chance for direct involvement in the art-making process, and more importantly, creative agency over their own visual representation. Entering the photo booth without constraints, men, women, and children exercised total control over their likeness and, more importantly, their communicative action, a freedom missing from the Italian political process at the time. I argue that Vaccari’s work was particularly trenchant because of the loaded medium; photo booths produced the standardized portraits used in identity cards, the official document of citizenship. Moreover, the device bore no small resemblance to Italian voting booths. Akin to casting their ballots, Vaccari’s participants could now register their own creative identities. Released from its prescribed function, each cheap, waxy photo strip manifested an alternative individuality, an alternative citizenship.

A Bid for Direct Representation: Creative Participation in Franco Vaccari’s Photomatic d’Italia.” In Contemporary Citizenship, Art, and Visual Culture: Making and Being Made, edited by Theresa Avila and Corey Dzenko, 10-26. London: Taylor and Francis, 2017.

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