Photography was a powerful force in shaping the identity of Italy at the turn of the twentieth century. As the country developed from a mosaic of agrarian regions into an industrial nation, anthropologists, artists, and architects turned to photography to illustrate the impact of such change. Exposing Virtue and Vice: Photography, the “Primitive,” and Modernity in Italy, 1870–1936 uses photographs of subjects described as “primitive” in period literature as a lens to explore the effects of industry and nationalism on Italian society. These include peasants whose simplicity symbolized a genuine Italian culture, rural landscapes unspoiled by modernization, criminals whose atavistic tendencies worsened in cities, and “primordial” sensations sparked by the newness of the times. My interdisciplinary study charts how primitivism shaped perceptions of Italy’s modern transformation, demonstrating the key role photography played in the process.