Ver Noticias “I Observed Them in Their Way of Working”: A Q&A With Willy Rizzo on Photographing Dali, Chanel, and Dior

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A detail of Willy Rizzo's photo of Salvador Dalí, 1950

“I Observed Them in Their Way of Working”: A Q&A With Willy Rizzo on Photographing Dali, Chanel, and Dior

“I Observed Them in Their Way of Working”: A Q&A With Willy Rizzo on Photographing Dali, Chanel, and Dior

by Ann Binlot

In 1961, the photographer and designer Willy Rizzo traveled to Brazil to photograph his ex-wife, Elsa Martinelli, and the playboy Porfirio Rubirosa during Carnival. Some 50 years later, the Italian artist returns to the country for the exhibition “Willy Rizzo in Brazil” at MuBE, the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture in São Paulo. The installation, which is on display through September 2, showcases 100 of Rizzo’s photographs of virtually every major celebrity from the past 70 years. Salvador Dalí peers through a magnifying glass for a Surrealist portrait, Marilyn Monroe looks angelic thanks to a soft backlight (Rizzo was the last photographer to shoot the actress before her 1962 death), and a fresh-faced Brigitte Bardot crawls out of a boat on all fours. In an email toARTINFO, Rizzo discussed the evolution of celebrity photography, his experiences photographing some of history’s boldest names, and his most memorable subject.

You traveled to Rio de Janeiro to photograph Carnival in the ’60s. How does it feel to have a major exhibition of your work in the country now?

I’m very flattered to be exposed in Brazil. It’s always a fairy celebration in Brazil. For a journalist it is the maximum when his work becomes artistic.

Tell us what it was like to shoot the first Cannes Film Festival in 1947?

It was for France Dimanche. I invented the “Club des Milliardaires,” and they liked it. I photographed in the lobby of the greatest palace and I met Princess Troubetzkoy, Errol Flynn, Porfirio Rubirosa, Freddy McEvoy, and Juan Capurro. It was that year that the talking cinema changed its look. Jacques Becker, Elia Kazan, Ingmar Bergman, and Vincente Minnelli were there.

How was your experience shooting fashion designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, and Pierre Cardin? Describe them.

When I photographed them, they were already strong personalities. I observed them in their way of working and in their habits. Fashion was like the birth of a new industry. I was close with Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, and Yves Saint Laurent became a good friend. A fashion designer is at the beginning a worker who becomes the best one. There is no cheating. He has to be really good – it is mandatory. As a picture, if it is good you cannot deny it. It is a feature of art.

What were artists like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí like?

They had a huge talent – I wanted to understand where this talent came from, and it was beautiful to see a person become famous through his work.

Who is your most memorable subject? Can you tell us an anecdote about your experience with him/her?

My most memorable subject is the Pope Pius XII. In 1950 I went to Rome to photograph the Vatican, I took a lot of pictures of the priest, places, and some of the Pope but not as I wanted. After one week of work inside the Vatican, the Pope came to ask me if I was happy with my work. I said, “Most Holy Father, no not very much, because I did not photograph you as I wanted.” His chief of protocol almost sent me out and as I was leaving with my assistant, his personal secretary came to me and told me his Highness was waiting for me in his small garden. Then I really did the photograph I expected.

Did you carry any lessons from photography into furniture design? How did it differ from photography?

Every work that necessitates talent like painting, sculpture, or cinema, it is something abstract and above in … efficacy. If you want to become good you have to be different. People should stop on your work. Design is made of materials and lines that take and reflect the light, and of cropping. In photography, the result is more or less immediate. In design I need a little more time to see a prototype finished.

How has fashion photography changed since you started shooting in the ’40s?

Everything changed: the angle, the light, the dresses changed – also the women’s personalities. The important pictures are impossible to reproduce. Many have tried. Before, they were simple photographs with a grey background, the model looking at you and we [needed] to fabric our atmosphere with our talent. Now, photographers use much more themes.

This article originally appeared

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