‘What would beyonce do’: an unconventional portrayal of Italian life

Photographer Leone Balduzzi captures suburban Italian life in a new book of self-portraits, titled What would beyonce do

View of a photo from Leone Balduzzi's book entitled 'What would beyonce do' showing a family gathering
(Image credit: press)

Titled What would beyonce do, a new limited-edition photography book of self-portraits by Leone Balduzzi is produced by the avant-garde Milanese creative agency C41. 

The book offers an intriguing glimpse of Italian life, shedding light on the everyday poetry of San Salvo, a working-class seaside town in the Abruzzo region. Leone (he prefers to go by his first name) depicts himself in a suburban house surrounded by deflated, post-party detritus – flattened pizza boxes and wilting balloons – as well as within the pallid interiors of a high-school gym.

Self-portrait by Leone Balduzzi showing two men sitting at a dining table

(Image credit: press)

We see the photographer at the dining table eating chicken from plastic plates, and in a hardware store surrounded by an overwhelming proliferation of paint cans and plastic-sealed tools. For Leone, these mundane everyday activities are an exciting jumping-off point for creative exploration. 

The book is a depiction of life in Italy that stands in stark contrast to the iconic work of filmmakers such as Federico Fellini, Luca Guadagnino, Paolo Sorrentino, and other artists who depict the country as a visceral carnival of glamour and indulgence.

Self-portrait by Leone Balduzzi showing a man at a hardware store

(Image credit: press)

Leone’s lens does not capture anything along the lines of women in ballgowns sauntering through fountains or celebrities lounging poolside. Rather, he believes ‘an ordinary life makes for an extraordinary story’, and it is true that his documents of life in his hometown make for a compelling portrait of modern life.

‘I’ve never been an esterofilo [lover of foreign things],’ Leone says. ‘On the contrary, I’ve grown up admiring the works of Italian artists such as Luigi Ghirri, Vittorio De Sica, Giorgio Morandi. Narrating Italy is a never-ending source of stimuli and inspirations.’

Self-portrait by Leone Balduzzi showing a man getting a shave

(Image credit: press)

Leone’s subject might veer away from the bombastic glamour of Italy’s modern masters, but it shares a particular surrealist flair. The everyday is morphed into something slightly dream-like in the photographer’s hands, ‘normal’ people are, in his words, ‘put at the centre of the scene like pop stars’ (hence, the book’s memorable title). 

What would beyonce do is the second of C41’s ‘Editions’ series, a collectible run of books that chronicles key figures in contemporary culture (the first volume surveys the work of architect Ugo La Pietra). 

Available in an edition of only 200 copies and powered by Flos, the book will be launched in Milan on 13 December 2021 at an event and temporary exhibition at Riviera Creative Space.

Self-portrait by Leone Balduzzi showing a group of people at a disco

(Image credit: press)



Writer and Wallpaper* Contributing Editor

Mary Cleary is a writer based in London and New York. Previously beauty & grooming editor at Wallpaper*, she is now a contributing editor, alongside writing for various publications on all aspects of culture.