How many Italian goths do you know? Because apparently there are so many olive-skinned, bubbly, loud vamps that even Italians like me are often taken by surprise. I mean, why would a country so catholic, Mediterranean and chaotic like ours fall for the charm of darkness and the eerie landscapes evoked by groups like Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees?
It may seem a silly question, but it is more or less the same question that the Los Angeles Review of Books posed back in 2012, when the critic Alan Williamson wrote about 19th century Italian pessimist Giacomo Leopardi: “Italians have always seemed to Northern Europeans (and to Americans) a warm, friendly, sensuous people, good at enjoying life; and this impression is not wrong. So it’s interesting, to say the least, that they are so devoted to such an unrelentingly pessimistic poet as Leopardi. Two of the greatest Italian Modernists, Montale and Pavese, are also dark.”
So you see, it's a story that started a long time ago. A story that photographer Dino Ignani decided to immortalise in the early 1980s, when he first realised that Siouxsie & Co. was gaining a following in Rome. He hung around the same cafes and clubs they did, made friends with them and took the most magnificent portraits. Thirty years later, he has compiled all the photos from that period in a book called Dark Portraits. I met up with Dino for an interview.
VICE: How and when did your relationship with the Roman goth scene start?
Dino Ignani: It was in 1980. I used to go to a wine bar in Trastevere called 'Fidelio', a meeting spot for artists, slackers, thinkers of various kinds. Then, suddenly one day the goth guys came. There were about ten of them and very young – let’s say between 18 and 22 years old. I was much older, and I knew nothing about goth music, let alone fashion. But those guys intrigued me, and I started being interested in them – at some point I decided to start taking pictures of them. I took over 550 photos.
You mentioned that for you it was a completely new experience.
Yes, I had a different background. Having been born in the 1950s and having grown up among political collectives, demonstrations and communes, to me the idea of “going dancing” was a bourgeois concept and was condemned as such. Some of the places where the goths used to hang out were totally new to me. In a way, it was a liberating experience.
It was also a particularly happy period for Rome.
Yes, the Years of Lead were over, people had started to go out again. The goths fascinated me because they showed a great amount of creativity. They made their clothes themselves, they cut their hair in an unusual way and their iconography revolved around coffins, candlesticks, vampires… that for a photographer is amazing.
But what kind of people were they?
Many of them came from the suburbs: the Roman goth scene was a working-class phenomenon. There was also a strong homosexual component – at the time there wasn’t a properly organised gay community in Rome, so my guess is that the goth scene represented a place of aggregation. Politically, there was a bit of everything – all the way from the right to the left.
What about drugs?
No, goths didn’t do drugs. Maybe just a glass of wine. If you happened to get drunk it was by chance. People didn’t go out with the idea of getting wasted.
The series consists of portraits you took between 1981 and 1985. Why did you stop?
Well, for starters I started working on other projects. But times had also changed. And the goth phenomenon was just not that trendy any more. The guys I had been photographing got jobs – someone became a baker, someone else left for London.
Did you stay in touch with any of them?
Yes, quite a few people. They’re now designers for Fendi, painters, artists working for the Opera, people who ended up on television. Some of them, however, have simply disappeared, swallowed by every-day life.
Is there one character you were particularly fond of?
Klarita and Rebecca were perhaps the most famous couple in the community. Monichetta made very beautiful clothes… and then there was Rossella. She was already 55 or even 60 and lived in a caravan. She was usually avoided and shunned by everyone, but the goths adopted her almost immediately. They were very inclusive. I mean, they also welcomed me, and I was ten years older and dressed in a way that had nothing to do with them.