Gladiatori Moderni


Gladiatori Moderni

For 15 years, Piero Pompili photographed with passion the world of boxing, which he frequented in Rome and Naples, in the gyms of the borgata, and in the catacombs where even the ancient gladiators prepared for their fights. The source of this fascination was a childhood spent in the Borghesiana (a local community in Rome), where he was born in 1967.

The boxers were part of the landscape, and Pompili developed a deep attachment to these epic heroes who fought every day in his city. Gladiatori Moderni is an homage to this stunning photographer.



An exhibition opening will take place on March 2, 2017 at gallery ArtMenParis. All details here.


Foreword to the book by Olivier Cerri


Bodies, sweat, and a look in the eye: strength, courage, and doubt. Right away, Piero Pompili’s visual and emotional alphabet indicates an œuvre characterized by images of captivating intensity.

For fifteen years, the artist has been passionately photographing the world of boxing, frequenting the gyms and practice rings of the borgata in Rome or Naples.

In these working-class suburbs of Italy’s great cities, where Calabrians and Sicilians have congregated in the post-wars years, Pietro Pompili captures atmosphere which is stamped with the accent of Pasolini. Indeed, the artist is just as fascinated by the urban social landscape that his pictures evoke as by the subject itself, as he has demonstrated elsewhere in his work: the working classes of Ostia, an African hairdresser in Rome, etc. (cf. his Cara Roma exhibition, 1994).

His fascination with this milieu stems from a childhood spent in Borghesiana, a borgata of Rome, where he was born in 1967; boxers were part of the scenery there, and Piero Pompili developed a profound attachment to the heroes of the popular epics that were fought out every day on his estate.

That gave him a wide vision: Via his photographic approach to boxing, Piero Pompili is searching not just for a formal truth, but for poetic, social, and historic truths, too. The ordinary people of Rome, their energy and their passions, had already inspired Géricault (the work around his Course de chevaux libres, 1817) or longer ago still Caravaggio, who created truly realist genre paintings by selecting his models from the streets.

The photographer uses this same realistic approach: His theme, boxing, is not a pretext for portraying idealized men confronting one another in a kind of clash of the titans; the modern gladiators he shows are not gods but men beings of flesh, each with his own fears and ambitions — his doubts at the approach of the combat, his furious desire to survive it, which makes him accept discipline and sacrifice. “A true boxer must be afraid,” Piero Pompili reveals.

To better portray the intensity and the stakes involved in their engagement, the artist has chosen to take his pictures not of the combat itself, but backstage in the wings from the tough routine of daily training through to the moments of meditation and the last rituals which precede entry into the ring, where the air is thick with tension.

Usually photographed in isolation, the boxers are alone as they confront the waves of adrenaline and anxiety during the lead-up to the fight. What is striking is the expression on their faces, which stare at the lens as if it were a mirror, defiant or melancholy, conveying snatches of their existence. The bodies themselves speak, too: the close-up of an arm with the veins outstanding — the expressive power of an arm or a torso, evoking an armor that is ready to be worn.

Scrutinized as they train, surprised in solitude before a fight or in the silence of a deserted locker room, tracked right through to the expression that betrays their eyes or their body; in the end, Piero Pompili’s gladiators reveal a paradoxical secret: If they are to claim victory, either in the ring or in their lives, the opponent they must defeat is, above all, themselves.

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