Analysis Of A Photo Of Benito Mussolini

1258 words - 5 pages

Napoleon Bonaparte adage ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ holds true with regards to the photograph of a topless Benito Mussolini. This profound image captures the essence of the relationships, intersections and overlaps between historical discourses of reality and propagated realism. Discourses where one is historiographical and the other is philosophical. The historical aspect depicts the subject at a particular time and place in Italy’s past. The review examines the historical and philosophical relationship and perspectives of the image’s content and context; in particular, the contextualisation of the image in terms of propaganda diffusion.

The black and white photograph (Fig.1), taken 20 January 1937, show a topless Benito Mussolini on the Mount Terminillo snow covered ski-field. Mussolini is posed in an upright skiing position with legs slightly splayed and hands gripping ski poles at chest height in front of him. He is looking to his right as if observing something in the distance and has his chin slightly thrusted forward. The photo was taken during the period of Mussolini’s fascist rule of Italy, from 1922 to 1943. According to the Archivio Storico Istituto Luce website the photograph was taken by the Ministry of Press and Propaganda’s News Department. The Istituto Luce, founded in 1924 by Mussolini’s was a key organisation in his propaganda machine. Given this information and the form of the staged topless pose in the winter setting, it is not unrealistic to presume that the photo was taken for propaganda purposes. And it was not unexpected, as Hibbert noted, Mussolini was well-known for his “insatiable appetite for self-dramatisation”, and created “part fact and part fantasy” images of himself, for purposes of self-aggrandisement. He was a noted for being a brilliant propagandist, skills that he had learned during his youthful years and perfected during his tenures at L'Avvenire del Lavoratore (The Future of the Worker) and Lotta di Classe (The Class Struggle).
The propaganda value of the photograph was not its aesthetic presentation. Its worth was contained within the contextual symbolism of Mussolini’s form and the alpine environment. Metaphorically, a strong, healthy, and robust Mussolini reflected a rigorous Fascist movement and Italian nationalism. The posture of an energetic Mussolini as portrayed in the photo was quintessential to the ideals of Italian nationalism, and thus Fascism. The ideological effectiveness to propagandising Mussolini’s image rested in Goebbels' concept of Expressionism “the programmatic deformation of reality”. An image formulated and directed by Mussolini himself to provide an alternate reality. A reality that is shaped and constructed by programmed methodology of deforming actuality and presenting instead, a didactic style of illustrative aesthetic distortion, exaggeration and paradoxical realism - covert realism. Realism dictated to indoctrinate the masses with pervasive and persuasive...

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