40 years on, a curious project by Gabriele Basilico becomes a book

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Non recensiti, Gabriele Basilico

Strippers, clowns and entertainers are the protagonists of these vintage photographs, found in a wardrobe. An affectionate testament in b&w to a world that belongs to the past.

It certainly brings a smile to the lips, but when Gabriele Basilico systematically carried out his coverage of the venues and protagonists of striptease and revues, he was already working on his first major project, Milan – Factory Portraits 1978-80. Basilico encountered the revue world in 1976 in Rimini, while working on an architectural shoot at the Grand Hotel, where he met and photographed two acrobatic dancers. Two years later, when many striptease joints were on the point of closing, he and a journalist friend, Tamara Molinari, decided to carry out a sort of survey into a world that was about to disappear. For a couple of years, what free time was left from working on architecture, design and the region, he spent at the Smeraldo, the Teatrino, the Hermes and the Colibrì. Basilico and Molinari received a warm welcome in these places deputed to revues and striptease. They presented themselves as an architectural photographer and journalist and their status as outsiders became a formidable passepartout. They were often accompanied by their photographer friend Cesare Colombo. The performers confided in Tamara Molinari, while Gabriele Basilico took portraits, and nobody refused him. Quite the reverse, they changed in and out of clothes and accessories for him, posed, looked into the camera and trusted him. Not playing to the gallery, but generously ingenuous. The portraits he made, under the unforgiving light of the flash bulb, were not sexy, but they weren’t glamour shots either. They are portraits of professionals willing and happy to dialogue with the photographer. The survey came to an end in 1980. Along with Maurizio Zanuso, a graphic design friend, Basilico and Molinari produced a maquette entitled Non Recensiti [Un-reviewed] (who would review a striptease act?), which they presented to the publisher Gabriele Mazzotta. The book could have been published, but Basilico didn’t apply for the necessary disclaimers and the project was shelved – the maquette, along with the prints and the negatives ended up in a wardrobe.

copertina nonrecensiti Basilico

Non recensiti, Gabriele Basilico

Gabriele Basilico moved in 2003, and all the material relative to Non Recensiti disappeared, randomly tucked away by his assistants. The book remained the subject of conversation for years, and despite many people searching for the material, there was no trace of this curious survey. Later on, I myself tried to find it, with similar results. On Thursday 15th October, I was in Rome when I received a message from Alberto Saibene of Humboldt Books. He had heard about Non Recensiti on a number of occasions and wanted to let me know that, should the material turn up, they would be interested in publishing it. It was an unexpected request but I forwarded it anyway to Gianni Nigro, a long-time collaborator of Gabriele Basilico, in a jokey sort of way. However, the following day Gianni found the maquette, in a wardrobe he had already searched several times, which was packed with maps from all over the world. In a truly surprising chain of events over the next month, a Brera Academy student, Andrea Elia Zanini, then doing an internship at the Gabriele Basilico Archive, found the original negatives, proofs and prints. The book could finally be published. But that wasn’t the end of it. Looking at the registrations for a conference held by Joan Fontcuberta at the MAST in Bologna I discovered that, at precisely the same time, a book by a Catalan photographer, Ximo Berenguer, had suffered the same fate as Basilico’s book. Needless to say, the story turned out to be one of Fontcuberta’s customary hoaxes, but at that point it became inevitable to ask him for a written contribution to sign off the project.

As I said myself in the Humboldt book, Non Recensiti is now in a position to be reviewed. However, the particular events that punctuated every step of the production of this curious book – curious compared with Gabriele Basilico’s usual photographic tendencies and his fascination with the built environment – have yet to be explained.

Title: Non Recensiti. Gabriele Basilico.

Text: Joan Fontcuberta, Giovanna Calvenzi

Photo/s: Gabriele Basilico

Published by: Humboldt Books

Published: 2021

Pages: 104

Language: Italian and English

15 October 2021