A visual autobiography, Leone Balduzzi offers a glimpse into his personalities through self-portraits. As well as authentic scenes of everyday life in Italy
What would Beyonce do?
Leone Balduzzi sits at his desk inside an office; the wall behind him, half green and half white, anchors a clock whose batteries have run out of charge. In front of him, he ignores the green folders filled with documents he needs to sign.
He leaves the green lamp on his right switched off and avoids hitting the play button of the turntable on his left. The phone rings, and he picks it up. He eyes the ceiling as he listens to what the caller is commanding him to do, feigning disinterest. He drops the phone and rests his left fingers on his head, and bows down, a frown dawning on his lips.
Then, he looks up, crosses his arms, and gazes at the camera capturing his office habits. The way he stares at the lens recurs as one rifle through the pages of Balduzzi’s photo book, so rare to see him not appear as a subject unless the color of the pages is orange. At first glance, one may think his photo book pays homage to an autobiography through photography. While that rings true, the compendium also serves up recipes for giving birth to a pop star. A bible of self-journey. An ingredient in the Hollywood industry. What would beyonce do?
The process of becoming a pop star
«I do not want to say that it has got nothing to do with Beyoncé, but, for me, the research and real expression of the book convey the road to becoming a pop star, at least how one can. It reflects what constitutes the process of becoming a pop star and the journey of trying to be someone else. I tried to answer how I could be a pop star throughout the making. I have been trying to figure this out for the last ten years since the book is set within this timeframe, a collection of portraits captured within ten years», Balduzzi tells Lampoon. He pondered on a pop star who could encapsulate the allure of the term, a force whose trends and styles take off after one endorsement.
«So, I chose Beyoncé. There is no strong relationship between the artist and me, but between the photos and pop culture since the foundation of this book represents one character trying to be someone else; someone powerful, playful, and funny that they pull in the audience into the photos». Balduzzi likes the idea, so he puts a ring on it.
He inscribes a portion of the lyrics of Single Ladies in one of the orange pages, abutting a picture of him in streetwear while sitting on a sofa with three women beside him.
Beyoncé within Pirandello
Beyoncé’s cult dubs her as Queen Bey. In an article by David Denicolo and Meirav Devash on the artist’s influence, the duo investigates the gravity of her persona. «Scientists can try to measure, philosophers to explain, but only poets can understand the magic of Beyoncé’s influence on music, dance, fashion, beauty—and pretty much everything else.
It’s a benign kind of sorcery, and the entire world is drunk in love,» the article introduces. Soon, they unveil that Beyoncé operates as a trend synthesizer. «She may not originate, but she brilliantly reinterprets and popularizes—and makes it all look easy and fun. Her taste is impeccable…Beyoncé, an accomplished and experienced dancer, selects the perfect moves—the hip popping, hand gestures, and yes, that unmistakable downward-punch strut—that are ripe for translation to a new decade.»
Balduzzi’s concept takes its cues from Luigi Pirandello, a dramatist and novelist from Italy, whose work Six Characters in Search of an Author resemble his compendium. In this Pirandello play, six characters turn on stage to find an author, a figure they hope will give them life their original author has refused to bestow on them.
Based on a write-up about the play in The Norton Anthology of Drama, Pirandello explores how to dramatize a set of short stories in a play, stage the performance, and command a story that only permits the audience to piece the puzzles of its arc in the last act.
«The concept of the photo book is close to Pirandello’s philosophy: one character is different from another and/or my character. This photo book reflects all the roles I have been trying to portray for the project, and perhaps, in life,» Balduzzi tells Lampoon.
One personality per situation and experience – Leone Balduzzi
What would beyonce do? offers a glimpse into Balduzzi’s personality. «For every situation requires a personality, a coping mechanism of some sort, to adapt to the changes that you are about to act. Whether it is work, family, or hobbies, you always play different roles. It isn’t always easy to be yourself because the external world wants you to be prepared for what the present situation requires you.
This is the book’s metaphor where you can see me as the character always playing different roles, always an outsider, as a visitor, like someone who is a bit far from the situation portrayed but at the same time within such: an insider-outsider. My personality varies depending on what scene I am in or what situation I experience.»
Balduzzi wears a referee uniform and settles on a sofa by a living room. Soon, four women sandwich him: the first picture demonstrates their restraint to touch him while the second shows the women’s hands clamoring for his attention. Next, he moves into a basketball court, free from people other than a ball in his hands. He covers his face with it and opens his legs for the photo. The tone shifts. The calm before the storm.
All the Single Ladies
There must have been a party the following night since, in the two images, he puts on his eyeglasses while in his living room that is thrashed with balloons, board games, boxes of pizzas, a bucket of wine, cups, plates, cutleries, cans, and a vacuum. Balduzzi, always sitting on a sofa, ignores the chaos and looks at the lens. The four walls as the setting of the photographs cripple away as he positions himself outside. Here, a desert behind him boasts the dryness of its land, the rocks that form its mountains, and the sky that glistens in blue. Balduzzi, a miniature in the creation of God, forms part of nature and dwarfs against the swelter of the sun.
All the Single Ladies
Up in the club, just broke up
I’m doing my own little thing
Decided to dip, but now you wanna trip
‘Cause another brother noticed me
After the Single Ladies lyrics
he book – the orange pages enter the scene, removing Balduzzi from the images, but retaining his presence through his family and close acquaintances as the subjects. «I involved my family, so half of the shots were captured in my hometown, San Salvo, a commune in Abruzzo.
In this place, the surroundings are shitty, so this inspired me to search for beauty in my life. At the same time, I am trying to find a way to make the shitty objects and experiences beautiful. I think I have carried this out quite well because I have done a lot of settings and characters that defy the classical way of beauty. For me, it is always interesting to redefine beauty.»
Balduzzi is on the beat
Grains dot the images. A grandmother nurses her granddaughter, asleep in her arms, on a sofa in the lounge of a hotel. A clerk gazes at the lens as he fists his hands and lays them on the edge of the counter, arms stretched. A man crosses his legs as he sits on a chair, directs his position to where the wind of the electric fan in the far corner breezes, and waits for patrons to drop by or buy from his empty bookstore.
Someone has forgotten their cap on a hotel bed. A woman in tank top dons her helmet and rides a motorcycle, peering at the lens before her engine revs. An old car, unused and perhaps wrecked, parks by a residence whose wooden gates are swung open. A bar’s interior turns hazy as the camera shakes. There is a shelf of postcards for those who fail to visit the city but yearns for a souvenir. A tarp covers a car. A young man wants to play the piano, but the photographer has intruded his concentration—stray cats on the streets. Balduzzi is on the beat.
Turning beautiful, slowing down, becoming a pop star
«There is beauty in aging. My experience taught me that aging is beautiful. In addition, I just learned that I can take good pictures. As a self-analyst, I have used this book to run this down. It is also an end of a cycle because I do not want to shoot self-portraits anymore. This opens a next chapter in which I will be investigating and researching the architecture of the churches in Italy of the 80s. In Italy, we have the churches as some of the most revered-by architecture by both the locals and tourists. I will be creating a link between these churches and the people that go in there.»
A photographer, creative director, director, and journalist: a note What would beyonce do? states on Balduzzi. During the interview with Lampoon, he says he never improves his skills in any photo editing software but has always collaborated with art directors to fill his knack for art and design. «I founded C41 because I was bored. Professionally, I dabble in photography and filmmaking. I started as one in a magazine in a University working with my professor, Gianni Canova, the editor of the publication.
Trying to mellow out the life
I also love cinema and music. I realized the time of filmmaking was slow, and I did not want to stand by to wait for a pitch, wait for a call, wait for something exciting to spark. It was dull. So, I started thinking about other possibilities to spend my time and commenced with C41. I am forty years old now. My next feature film will be about embracing slowness. My script is being written with a screenwriter; the subject has already been written. To do this, I only have to do this. I am trying to mellow out my life a bit: to savor it, to be in it, to accept it in all of its forms.»
Does Leone Balduzzi know the formula to turn someone into a pop star? No, he says. «I am a photographer. I am a filmmaker. I always try to tell a story to engage the audience into a story – my story. The pop-star philosophy inspired me because they try to engage many people. They retain a certain influence over them, often if not always. This project plays a role, funnily, that encourages my audience to have a look at it. It is at times humorous, at times personal. Try it. Be it.» The more the viewers look at the photographs in What would beyonce do?, the more they understand and become a pop star.
Born in the same land that gave life to Madonna, Gabriele D’Annunzio, and Rocco Siffredi, some may say that it’s written in the stars for LEONE to follow in the footsteps of artistic greatness. Now living in Milan, LEONE is a photographer, director, and creative director. LEONE worked as a journalist and photographer in the film, music, and media industries before directing his first music videos and commercials. In 2016 LEONE formed and became publisher and partner of C41 magazine and is a cornerstone of the C41 collective. Operating under the belief that “an ordinary life makes for an extraordinary story,” LEONE’s shots capture the grit and authenticity of the every day as seen through his singular and fashionable aesthetic.