The first sequence of images is dated 1969. We are in Franco’s Spain. The photographer’s eye documents the last hours of a young bullfighter’s life: in a tavern there is a party, but the atmosphere is sad. A veiled woman attends the dressing. In another sequence the boy is portrayed absorbed in prayer towards some sacred images, as in a poem by Garcia Lorca.
Those who had been able to look at the images would have allowed them to identify the hoax, the false grotesque. There are several clues. The first is the pennant with the coat of arms of the Municipality of Cento, which is barely visible on the walls of the tavern. But above all the sacred images, Greek Orthodox icons, have nothing to do with the very Catholic Spain. Well these photos were taken for real by top experts and exhibited in national exhibitions and reviews. They were a fake artist, they were fake news. The first of a long series.
Bruno Vidoni, born in 1930 in Cento, died in 2001, was a painter, photographer and supreme provocateur. An authentic pioneer of artistic fake news.
In 1971 Vidoni, who was director, costume designer and set designer of his creations, targeted the juries of photographic competitions. On the banks of the River Rhine, a stone’s throw from his home, a scene from the Cambodian war was reconstructed. The blood from Vietnam at that time had begun to flow throughout Southeast Asia. The title is emblematic and ingenious: War. Basically a parody of the most famous war reporters of the time, such as McCullin and Burrows. The shot won prizes, in the best tradition of farce.
The deception was revealed in the same year in the magazine “Photo13”. The optical image is mendacious, deceiving by its very nature. This was the belief behind Vidoni, an axiom still valid today.
His absolute masterpiece remains the report on the civil war in Northern Ireland. A work carried out following the commonplaces of war photography. In the photos you couldn’t see anything but everyone could see what he wanted. For example, a seventeenth century in the background of a dramatic shooting. What was he doing in Ireland then. Without any criticism and discussion, the work carried out not in Belfast but in Pieve di Cento was promptly published and acclaimed. The unveiled prank then invariably gave rise to a debate.
As an absolute genius, a character from a novel, a multifaceted artist, he is allowed operations bordering on farcical. In 1989, he was accredited to the general states of tourism, which took place in Ferrara, as councilor for tourism of the non-existent Romagna municipality of Santa Bladina, participating for three days in scheduled meetings and debates.
But the performance that most shakes the hearts of his many admirers is certainly the creation of a non-existent character, a non-existent painter, the futurist Romolo Fabbj. Obviously the super joke is successful, the art market (not new to blunders of this type) falls in full.
Yet the painter’s mastery, the signal, is immediately recognizable. The biplanes, one of Fabbj’s works, in their acronyms, make up VI-DO-NI. A trademark, a license plate.
And then how can we forget the false series of war photographs, taken by phantom German reporters during the Second World War. Only in the eighties did Vidoni confront himself with a too difficult subject, a false report on terrorism, in the form of a secret service dossier. When reality surpasses fantasy, a boundary is drawn and perhaps there was little to laugh about even for a joker like him. One wonders what he would have thought of the war in Ukraine, of the prepackaged images from every recent war. The battle first in the media and then on the battlefield. He loved to repeat that reality is discreet and invited us to be wary of too spectacular images. He also wrote it in a 1985 book entitled The improbable truths of the optical image. A museum has even recently been dedicated to Vidoni.
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