Go Underground and Discover the Legend of “Diamond Dogs”

Picture it: Naples, Italy, 1984: the city had been unhinged by a massive earthquake that struck four years earlier, creating a massive divide between the rich and the poor. The government had allocated $20 of the $40 billion earmarked for reconstruction to create a new class of millionaires, while another $10 billion went into the pockets of the Camorra and the politicians on the take, giving the Mafia entrance into the construction industry. Only one quarter of the funds were used to reconstruction.

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The results were to be expected. Naples, already plagued by the wars between Mafia gangs, a high rate of youth unemployment, ineffective local government, a decaying urban infrastructure, and a trashed public image, was caught in between chaos and despair, but from the darkness new hope emerged.

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That hope took the form of Diamond Dogs, a subterranean getaway from all that was going wrong. From the years 1984 through 1989, Diamond Dogs where artists, musicians, writers, poets, actors, and directors could converge, fomenting a cultural rebirth of Naples in its time of greatest need. Photographer Toty Ruggeri was among the crowd with his camera in hand, capturing the scene as it unfolded.

In celebration of this historic moment in the city’s history, Yard Press releases Diamond Dogs, Officina post industriale 1984–1987 Napoli, bringing Ruggeri’s incomparable archive to the public. It’s a gritty, gripping, glorious affair, a tribute to the Do It Yourself ethos that in necessary to survive. The photographs are printed full bleed, in black and white, on uncoated paper, and every picture gets a double page spread (the verticals, they are placed horizontally for that old-school centerfold effect).

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Page after page, night after night: the energy, the passion, the need and desire pours from the book much like the way the sounds of the bass reverberate through the floors. Diamond Dogs takes us down below, into a Neapolitan industrial realm that only the true school would go. It is a world filled with punks and anarchists, with innovators and activists. The club hosted live concerts, performances, and experimental theater as well as campaigns to support local, national, and international causes such as the Welsh miners protesting the Thatcher government. And though you may have never been, there’s something familiar here; the spark of youth culture that won’t ever bow down to injustice.

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The book includes a powerful and poetic essay by Paolo Pontoniere, who writes, “To remember events that took place more than thirty years ago may seem self-indulgent, the need for a generation that is now initiated towards Sunset Boulevard, but I beg to differ. Experiences such as Diamond Dogs have helped create the Neapolitan renaissance. It is essential to learn from the good that has been done in those years and then apply it today, to know what we should avoid instead. Not only to prevent the negative traits of the story from happening again—to exit, in other words, the loop of occurrences and recurrences of history—but above all to project what we have learned, in the future, so that the new generations of Neapolitan artists, thinkers, politicians, and social activists can create, grow, and prosper.”

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All photos ©Toty Ruggeri, courtesy of Yard Press.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.