Il Corpo del Capitano / The Captain’s Body is out now on sale as a preorder on cesurapublish.com until the end of September.
In 2018, photographers Luca Santese and Marco P. Valli documented the birth of the so-called Third Republic in a critical and satirical way.
Their body of work makes up the Realpolitik project, which takes its shape through independent publications and experimental installations.
After the end of the First Conte Government, their research focused on Matteo Salvini – the political leader of the Italian Lega – and centre-right forces. His voters call him “The Captain”.
Santese and Valli attend several party assemblies, celebrations and demonstrations, focusing on how the Captain uses his body for his political purposes.
The reason behind their choice lies in acknowledging the highly innovative style of Salvini’s propaganda; nowadays, it is visual imagery that builds political communication.
Salvini is constantly photographing himself, his daily life and his body, to stand out as a ‘man of the people’; he represents himself on his own, bypassing the traditional role of the photographer.
With millions following him, Salvini reaches his public directly through social media, to not have newspapers and television in his way. His ability to engulf and take advantage of criticism and attacks is just as impactful.
Santese and Valli were direct victims of this strategy: a picture of Salvini that was taken from Boys Boys Boys, the Realpolitik series’ first volume, was chosen by Time Magazine for their European edition’s cover.
A black and white crop of the leader’s smiling face, dramatically lit from below, towered behind the title “The new face of Europe”; this cover contributed to darken the European opinion of the leader.
In light of these events, Salvini reposted the very same image on his social channels, and used it to legitimate his political figure in national printed communications.
Despite what looks like an indestructible communication strategy, Santese and Valli want to reclaim what has historically belonged to the role of the photographer. The whole project relies on an organic and detailed documentation of Salvini’s activities that are distant from the way Salvini usually portrays himself.
The photographers final objective is to exaggerate the grotesque aspects of it, to provoke a counter reading.
The photographic style of such work is radically opposed to Salvini’s. His likeable, colourful, “pop” aesthetics is opposed by a rigorous black and white, obscure and dystopic. Such an inversion doesn’t just concern the photographs’ style, but also their narrative sequence. At the beginning of the book, one might have the feeling that the project is truthfully and ironically documenting different perspectives of Salvini’s propaganda; however, the work transforms into a counter-propaganda, as Santese and Valli put forward their personal imaginary storytelling: a definite response to the factious narrative that “the captain” often uses, and a wise measure for the photographers to avoid being engulfed again.
The Captain’s body takes its ultimate shape in a book: a seemingly anachronistic device, if compared to the fast pace at which images are used and enjoyed in our contemporary panorama. This choice is a rather clear statement: it highlights the need to dedicate an appropriate time to observe the images and reflecting upon their usage and impact. Hence, a critical approach, rather than a fast consumption.
On the book’s cover, Salvini’s face morphs into a mask, and the originally ambiguous image is now deprived of its eyes: rather than the man, it now theatrically evokes the surface, the costume, the wrap, the grin, the character. It is a man who showed off the ability to embody dozens of different roles: from Northern independentist to saviour of the South, from caring father to lover, from gluttonous eater to football supporter, from bulldozer driver to “jumper wearer”, and so on.
Matteo Salvini is indeed somewhat of a model for Santese and Valli, who feel thate they can evoke all of these roles through just one body.
To work on the Captain’s body means to work on more than just one man, but on everything that he embodies: the national body, the electoral one, the body represented by the media. The Beast, Luca Morisi, his supporters and adorers: a multitude of bodies converging into one, the Captain’s body.