Propaganda is a photographic series by Eolo Perfido (Rome 1972) with an evident strength and the prevailing geo-political theme, but which at the same time provides us with many levels of interpretation. Usually, when it’s like this, it happens to rely on instantly recognizable elements, at most exterior inflections of photographic works. Perfido is a talented professional photographer: able to leave us open-mouthed with a well-established habit of the technical type, for example. It would seem he is suggesting that anyone with rigorous aesthetic and communicative practice of creative study could come up with a series like Propaganda.
No, it's not like this really. And not only that: taking a look at Perfido’s portfolio, it is clear that all of his work suffers from an extremely deep position, refined and personal style. Eolo Perfido’s style may sound "foreign" through the eyes of anyone born in Italy and especially in Rome. Certainly, the architectural organization of his images, even the most casual amongst them, betrays a graceful look and structured like the Mediterranean spectator, born in the shadow of amphitheaters and cathedrals.
However, the domesticated violence, refined morbidity and outrageous beauty of his photos are much more familiar to the Central European and Anglo-American spectator (it is not by chance that the prestigious Dutch quarterly, Eyemazing, devoted their cover and a portfolio to the Propaganda series, a little more than a year ago).
But how do you get in tune with Perfido’s images? The photo enthusiast can liken them to Fellini glamor of Erwin Olaf, or the cruel theatricality of Joel Peter Witkin, but without the humor of the first or the use of quotations of the second. The man in the street has a vague and distant idea of his atmospheres thanks to the new wild advertising: between Lachapelle’s artificial morbidity and von Unwerth’s neo-Berliner. TV enthusiasts can get it due to his proximity to Floria Sigismondi’s neo-Goth aesthetic videos (Marilyn Manson, Bjork, White Stripes, etc.) but without Cronenberg’s mutants.
As always, despite the fact that Eolo Perfido’s language is made of such a formal adroitness and frontal narrative, it may be liked for more transversal reasons. Maybe Propaganda – with all those faces without eyes and those mouths which are all teeth and gaping gorges from superhuman screams – can please the enthusiast of Francis Bacon’s paintings; or maybe his monomaniac ritual for bandages that obstruct the eyes privileged channels of art, brings afloat the prosthetic performances of Rudolf Schwarzkogler. Or even the obsessive Michael Moore follower could remain fatally attracted by the immediate equation between the blind scream and the ubiquitous Star-Spangled Banner.
And again. Then we will have to analyse the number of characters included in the portfolio, which are nothing but a gallery of Americanness emblems, an inverted perspective view of "other". When in ‘86 Denys Arcand roamed the decline of the American Empire, did not know how to imagine the implosion of American cultural dominance. Today the American Dream seems to be really at its REM, when everyone seems to want to wake up, Perfido does not lose the historic opportunity to reflect on the Americans. It does it however in a symbolic and not reportage way, creating a contemporary Iconography, almost like tarot where personifications of negative clichés appear and which today are associated with - hastily or ideologically – the idea of America. These include the starlet, sentenced to death, the patriot, the congressman, the confessor.
A chamber of horrors that it’s almost made of a careful propaganda that tries to awaken us from a dream, but the nightmare of others. In this dream within a dream of America’s external identity can no longer appear haughty and aloof – like Bush senior in Avedon's picture – but must reflect its internal crisis: political and moral crisis of self-representation. A crisis that strikes us – as a province of the Empire and province of dreams – and to which Eolo Perfido provides an artistic form which is in itself a gift and a thought of liberation.
In this sense Propaganda seems a contemporary and iconic version of the American anthem played by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969: raped and rendered incandescent, obscene, necessary, absolute.
Augusto Pieroni, 2009
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