“The loneliest ebb of my life came on that Christmas eve, only one day after my arrival in New York. The abyss of loneliness. I ate a solitary dinner in a small cafe, and the very food tasted bitter with my unshed tears. One doesn't dare cry in America. It is unmanly here.” — Rudolph Valentino
Rudolph Valentino, promotional image for Paramount Films
Postcard, Ross Verlag Berlin SW68, ca.1925-26
Within my photography work two of my main drivers are feelings of discovery and retrospection. New York City's architecture is full of layers of history. Rabid development continues to destroy historical buildings at an unprecedented rate. My current urban photography series Ghost Waltz was born from searching for New York City's past eras before they vanish. With influences such as Brassaï, silent films and spirituality, I shoot the city in a manner that recalls modernist, early 20th century photography and examines the overwhelming psychic effect of being inside “the belly of the beast”.
Rodolfo Guglielmi di Valentina: Via Crucis, Il Finale (A Requiem) is the sixth installment of the Ghost Waltz series. With Via Crucis, I follow silent screen star Rudolph Valentino’s footsteps in New York City during the final month of his life, which ended on August 23rd, 1926 at the age of 31. Via Crucis in Italian literally means the ‘Way of the Cross’, which depicts the steps leading to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. With this work I examine the final month of Valentino’s life in New York in stages as each day brings him closer to his fate. The dynamics of stark light and dark lend the imagery a natural sort of dramatic tension that gives a poetic interpretation of not only a bygone era but an existential crisis. Within these buildings one feels dislocated, bewildered, and isolated. Both historical figures have known the feverish veneration of the public, the pain of persecution, and the sting of betrayal. Struggling with his enormous fame, Valentino found himself constantly attacked by xenophobic journalists who slandered him as effeminate, and turned their outrage on him when younger men began adapting his mannerisms.
Masculinity still remains a hotly debated topic. Today men are undergoing a similar existential crisis as the traditional ideas they grew up with are called into question. In history, Christ’s death symbolized the sacrifice he made for a belief where all people were equal before God. Valentino's death would establish his own place within social history, enacting a change in American masculinity that always insisted on a stoic, aggressive machismo as its virtue. Generations of men afterward have looked to Rudolph Valentino to help redefine what it means to be a man. As with Jesus of Nazareth, Via Crucis is a requiem to a man who has suffered greatly at the hands of his critics, but has the last laugh in immortality.