by Alessia Glaviano | New York, June, 2016
Giving a meaning to our existence is a fundamental instinct of mankind.
The search for the meaning of life is intrinsic to human nature, as is the dismay – though in reality it is the awareness – that there is no meaning to it. It is this such a search – sometimes explicitly expressed and sometimes unconsciously – that drives the Artist. A journey that becomes the meaning itself, the illusion of the goal. What makes Glaviano a great Artist is, in my opinion, the authenticity of his search and the coherent development of his Art.
My Father’s career stretches over half a century and is not yet over. From the dissident movements of the 70s, when mass culture engaged with fashion and the dominant themes in fashion Photography were born out of the sexual emancipation embraced in the previous decade; to the hedonistic 80s that marked the decade of excess and the celebration of wealth; to the 90s, when fashion Photography was influenced by the ‘snapshot culture’ - a direction that celebrated unconventional beauty, women caught in the intimacy of everyday rituals - without make-up, with messy hair, imperfect - their vulnerabilites revealed. Locations unadorned, bare, almost bleak in fact; The millennium ushered in the era of the celebrities taking us to the present day, a period characterized by an international Photography scene that has never been as varied and multifaceted. The internet, and in particular social media, have erased any barrier between those who have something to say and their potential audience. Gone is the figure of the absolute arbiter deciding what it is right to show and what it is not. The democratization process of the reception of visual images triggered, with a rapidity that was unthinkable in the pre-internet era, a domino effect on several aspects of our culture and society. Alongside the models’ statuesque and flawless bodies, we now have images portraying ‘real’ women – thin, curvaceous, buxom, tall or short –it does not matter. They smile, at ease in those bodies that until a few years ago would have been deemed in need of ‘retouching’, through cosmetic surgery or at the very least through photo retouching. Gender differences are also starting to no longer be the primary element defining identity. A revolution inthe visual imagery that is mostly due to the proliferation in recent years of female gazes on women depicting the variety of beauty.
Glaviano went through all the aesthetic revolutions occurring in the last fifty years as if they were a canvas upon which he projected his own vision, always guided by the same yearning: beauty. An ideal type of beauty, classical, harmonious, explored in all its different and varied forms of expression that he has embraced through the years: portrait, fashion and advertising as well as nudes and landscape Photography. His search obsessive and manic, as if beauty, the illusion of perfection, could bring order amid the chaos of the world and inside the mind. The beauty of a woman’s body, of the roots of a tree, of the hands of a jazz player, of a hillside ploughed by the wind. In Glaviano’s Photography it is the form that determines the content, the technical expertise that frees the expression potential.
It is this aesthetic rigour that has produced, through the years, images that have stood the test of time and fashion. Images that do not fall into any of the trends of the above-mentioned decades but rather belong to the Artist’s inner world. When my Father asked me to write an introduction for this book, I thought that the best form would have been an interview, a dialogue between a Father and his Daughter. Between a great Photographer and a Journalist. I learnt a lot from my Father but, perhaps, what we share above anything else – although in a different form – is an obsessive search for our personal truth and our passion for life.
AG: What attracted you to Photography?
MG: Well, it goes back a very long time. Because I had a favourite uncle who was much like me actually, we had similar characters. He worked in the movie industry. He started by directing and at the end he was a screen writer. He was the one who inspired me. He was travelling, he was living all over the place with the movie stars. When I was five years old they gave me a Leica. And this was the beginning. I continued on and off but I had so many other things I wanted to do.
AG: Like what?
MG: Well, I liked music. I was very much into Jazz. At the time it was something very very new. It was before Rock’n’Roll, almost- yes actually it was before. And then I studied architecture. Photography was always there but in the background. I always did some and I had a darkroom but I was mostly into other things. And then I was taking pictures of Jazz musicians. I also went to Jazz festivals where I played. And there were some very famous Musicians and they asked me ‘Oh but can I have this picture?’ ‘Can I have
that picture?’ ‘Can you do one?’ And I said well, maybe there is a job for me there, plus I was not a very good musician.
AG: When did it become a job?
MG: It became a job when I was about 24,25... when I had to decide what to do. It was either Music, Architecture or Photography. And then I discovered something very strange, that what I felt with the Music, was not as much as having a camera. The thing is I always loved Photography. I started Photography when I was at school and then at university. Because it was too expensive to hire a photographer to do the pictures for my thesis. And so instead of hiring a photographer my father bought me a camera. It was a Rolleiflex. And for a long time I only did architectural pictures. And then I started to do still life. I had a very big eight by ten (8x10) Linhof. Enormous! You could not move it. It took two people to move it. And I was playing with that and took still life and architectural pictures. And then the musicians and so on. The models came much later.... Much later.
AG: And how did that happen? How did you start photographing models?
MG: I think it had a lot to do with meeting Eva.(Malmstrom) Eva at the time was eighteen. And she helped me a lot because it was very difficult to start. Even though people think that it was easy then, it is not true at all.
AG: How did you meet Eva?
MG: I went to do a shoot in Morocco. I was very young. I was 25 or 26. I had a friend who was a playboy, and he said: ‘Oh I want to come with you. I am going to bring my girlfriend.’ So he arrives with this beautiful girl. And, you know, I liked her so much and we started talking. So we were talking, and whilst walking on the beach she said: ‘I could never be with a photographer because there are too many women around. I would never be with a photographer!’ Three months later we were together and it lasted for years and years. At the time she was the best model in Milan. The only reason she stayed in Milan was because I was there. Everybody else was in Paris. She was the darling of Barbieri, Helmut Newton, all the big photographers.... she was helping me do pictures and then she started telling the magazines: ‘Well I know this person I live with who is really good. Maybe you should use him.’ And they did. So I did the first pictures for Italian Vogue. And then we went to New York. She was working in New York so I went to New York with her. And it all started like that.
AG: What have you learned through photography in your life? How did it shape you as a person?
MG: I am not very intellectual, I think that Photography has always been an instinct. I see things that other people don’t see. It is true for all photographers. The difference is: ten (thousand) times people pass in front of something and they do not see it but you do. So I think that Photography, in the end, is the art of seeing things in a different way, with a unique and personal point of view. And of course different photographers will see the same things in different ways and they will take a completely different picture of the same thing. I have an example of this: When I did a book about Sardinia a few years ago, and the book came out, everybody asked me: ‘What is this place? It’s fantastic!’ I said: ‘It is just in front of your window but you never look carefully enough.’ All these beautiful rocks. People have their houses there although they never saw it, but they look at the book and say: ‘This is beautiful! Where is it?’ ‘Near the house, right there, on top of it.’ And they do not look, you know. So I think that looking is the most important part, looking with curious eyes. Curiosity about things, shapes.
AG: I think that in order for something to be considered Art, it needs to have a “coefficient” transformation, which is the variance between reality and the vision of reality that artistry brings with it. After all, without transformation, photographs would be a mere pieces of paper
MG: The kind of Photography I do or that I have done is not reportage. Because it is sort of created, you know, it is thought through. There is a process of ‘What are we going to do? How are we going to do this?’ It is something that you first think about and then you make. And one of the greatest satisfactions is when you can do something that you talked about before and then you see it done. You say ‘Oh! This has actually happened.’ Because you think about something that is not there. It is the opposite of photojournalism where you go there and you document something that is very important and it stays there as a document. So what I do is fiction. But it is a fiction based on reality because all these things that are part of this so-called fashion world and beauty and glamour and everything are real. I mean you see it also throughout the years, the decades, it changes all the time. So it is not something you dream up in a vacuum.
AG: Photography talks about society, about culture, no?
MG: It has a lot to do with Music, with street fashion, what young people do.
AG: Who we are..?
MG: I have noticed also that basically every big fashion trend has started with street fashion. There is always a trendsetter who starts to wear something new and different, then two years later somebody ‘steals’ the idea and makes it commercial. I remember, I went to London when I was very very young, seventeen or eighteen. I did not sleep for three days because it was so exciting to see people who were completely different. In the Sixties London was amazing. And then that became fashion. And the same thing happened every decade. You know, during the disco era in New York, at Studio54, people where dressing in the wildest ways. Five years later it was on the runways, so there is a part of documentary also to what we do. Except that it is constructed it is not obviously already there.
AG: What is beauty to you?
MG: Music and the harmony within it is beautiful. It is a matter of proportions and it is mostly made in a mathematical way and is also the feeling of something that gets deeply inside of you. Beauty is an universally recognized value. We live in a culture which has been obsessed with beauty for at least the last five thousand years. Its not something new.
AG: Don’t you think that looking for certain rigid, strict canon of beauty...can limit creativity?
MG: That can be both true and wrong. Most of my career I have been fighting for what I think is beautiful and not what people told me was beautiful at a certain moment. I know that if something is beautiful, people look at it. Even if they do not know why. It is like listening to Mozart, even if you know nothing about classical music it makes you feel good. Of course you have to be beautiful inside but we’re talking about two different things. And on top of that, I have noticed that the camera for some reason which I never understood, also captures beauty from within. If you look at all these pictures, the strongest ones capture intriguing people, not simply aesthetically beautiful. Therefore I believe that the camera has this misterious ability of capturing ‘beauty’ on a different level. It is in the eye, I do not know. There is something... I cannot explain how it works but for sure it works. Because if you see all my pictures, I know, all these girls they lasted. They are now going to be in this book. Out of thousands there may have been twenty or thirty who have a really special looks and personality. Every one of them. Not a single one of them is shallow. No one. And there is also this false mith going around that if you are beautiful, you might not be intelligent. Which is absolutely not true. One thing that I know, is that beauty is an universal value. And it is not just women or men but the landscapes, the Architecture, the wind, the Animals, nothing is more beautiful than Animals.
AG: John Szarkowski. once said: ‘Every picture is a self portrait.’ What do you think about this?
MG: First I have to tell you that I have met Szarkowski and, my opinion, he didn’t undersand Photography. He came to my studio in Central Park South and was looking for very small little precius things, My pictures are Big! Anyway he was a very intelligent person, too bad that he was the curator of Photography at MoMa. I know what he meant. Of course every time you take a picture you are putting something of yourself inside it, but to me it’s the subject that matters the most. For example, if the tree is not there, I cannot take a picture of it. So the photographer in a way is showing his point of view, looking at something that is already there. Whether the subject of the photo is an object, a model or simply a landscape there has to be something captivating and intriguing within it, which then shapes the quality of the photograph. In fact I always like to share the credit for the final result with my subjects, being people, nature or whatever is a part of it.
AG: Images stream and follow one another often too quickly against the liquid and virtual day-to-day routine. Thousands, if not millions - photographs that have lost their physical and tangible nature.Those photographs that long ago used to fill up our Photography albums and drawers nowadays are loaded into the virtual space of a folder on our computer or phone, increasingly becoming products to be perused – and consumed quickly - and increasingly so are less meditation objects to be treasured and cherished. Sometimes I think about how precisely I remember certain images of my childhood, how they are set in my memory, how often I have looked at them and, like keys, I simply need to recall them in my head to access different chapters of my life. The way I mnemonically visualize the pictures on my Facebook wall or on Instagram is different: they are not objects in themselves, they are more liquid, dissolved in that constant flow of visual information that is difficult to linger on. Visual imagery is increasingly changing its function from collective cognizance to language but, personally, I think that it is important that we don’t loose the memory function altogether as it is through the past, through the journey, that the future is built. I believe that it is important to value and remember also images from the past, especially those linked to an authentic path, to a different awareness and more spontaneity, which meant that photographs preserved a closer correspondence to their sources in the real world.
MG: Art has always been controversial because you see things before other people do - and that scares everybody. Everything different is always scary to the masses, sorry it’s not PC. but I don’t have an other word for that. They are scared because they want everything to stay the same because it is comfortable. So everytime somebody comes along with something different, the first reaction is: ‘It is terrible! It is bad! It’s this and that.’ So it then takes time for it to be accepted. This happens in science too, it happens everywhere. Rock’n’Roll was the music of the devil, and now basically it is like classical music. Now the kids listen to techno-music, which is probably very good… I don’t understand it very much but I am sure it is because if they like it there must be something good in it. I still remember my Father locking the piano when he found me playing Jazz, I don’t want to make the same mistake. Anything that is new changes your perception of the world into something which isn’t safe and comfortable. While most people do not want to take any risks, Artists are not conformists - they want to change the world. They want to do something different.
AG: And what about your comfort zone? Do you ever get out of your comfort zone?
MG: Me, I have never been in a comfort zone. I do not even know what that is.
AG: In terms of your style in Photography?
MG: I have never been comfortable, ever. Because I have always done things that people do not like. I do not feel very good about what I do because most of the time I do not like the results of my work.
AG: Why is that?
MG: Because there is always something missing, you know. It is never perfect. But of course perfection does not exist. And you always make a mistake and then you look at it and you say, I could have done better. Especially when you get to my age, and you look back, you say, oh my God I have made so many mistakes.
AG: Well, if you don’t make mistakes it means you aren’t doing anything…
MG: Yes, but I am not talking about that. That is different. Of course the best way not to make a mistake is to do nothing. That is what most people do. I am talking about doing things and making mistakes because you are not smart enough or careful enough or intelligent enough to do it right. And after a while you look back and you see that.
AG: Why do you think Photography is so bound with insecurity? I have met so many photographers and they are all insecure.
MG: It is insecurity, yes. First of all I remember when I was very very young people asked, ‘Did it come out?’ Because, at the beginning, it was a mysterious process.
AG: It is the same thing William Klein told me the other day. He said they where saying “Did it come out”?
MG: Yes! Because you know, back in the days people didn’t have an iPhone. There were twenty things that could go wrong. And you had to wait three days to find out if you had a picture or not. Because also do not forget that photography is a craft. You had to do so many things. Practical little things. Cock the shutter, open this, close that, and so many things happen and you had no polaroids, you did not know because the labs took three days and then you wait to see if have a picture or not. And so maybe at the beginning there is this process which is magical and a very uncertain outcome.
AG: Yes, but you see, I do believe that there is something about this particular craft, this particular profession which is Photography, that is bound with self-doubt or maybe it is just because most Artists are insecure. I think that as with all the other Arts you constantly live for the feedback... you depend a lot on what other people think to feel good about yourself.
MG: Oh, yes. It depends very much on what other people think of you. It is a contradiction because you start doing these things to go against what other people think. But then, in order to be successful or at least survive, you need to get approval. We have always been the plaything of the upper class, think about the poor Leonardo who was forced to be the interior decorator of the princess. Now, the process of getting approval is very difficult because most people say no, no, no. I am doing this book now with about five hundred pictures over fifty years. The majority of this pictures were rejected from the magazines at the time when I did them. Pictures that were not published because they were not good enough!!! and they are the best ones.
AG: Do you think that we can draw a line between commercial work and artistic work?
MG: No. Because some of the things that came out to be the most durable and interesting were done during the course of commercial work. First of all this is a commercial work. I mean, lets face it, if you want to call me a fashion photographer, which may be true, basically we take pictures to sell somebody’s clothes. Most people are not able to transcend the commercial part of it. Then a few do something that is commercial but it is done with a vision that transcends and becomes Art. But it is very rare. Very few people have been able to do that. So, I think that you cannot draw a line. It is difficult. In my opinion, commercial work is very important because it is training. We seem to forget that Photography is hard, it is a very difficult job. if you are serious, you do not just take a camera and take pictures. You have to really know a lot of things. You have to train every day, it’s like playing the piano. It is not every time that you practice the piano that you are playing a concert, you know, you practice. The commercial work gives you the every day tools to learn a job and transform it into a profession.
AG: How important are the technical aspects compared to the vision?
MG: I think that the vision without the technique does not go anywhere. Because you cannot even have a vision if you do not know how to translate it into reality. Or otherwise we are talking about lucky accidents which is not my way of taking pictures. The lucky accident exists. See if you give a chimpanzee a camera with enough film it is going to make a nice picture by accident for sure. For sure it will. So that is another story. I am somebody who is coming from developing my own film in the darkroom, technically proficient. I know very few- well there are many, but not that many - who can do that. Then they are the people who take pictures. Now, if you have an idea and you do not know how to translate that into reality, if you do not have the technique, your ideas are limited. When you get an idea you ask yourself, how am I going to do this? But then of course there is all that kind of photography that actually started at the end of the Eighties when the magazines started publishing out of focus pictures and everybody tought that was cool, fun, different and nice. (???)
AG: What do you think was the turning point in your career?
AG: Success, yes.
MG: The day I met on a Sunday morning with Alex Lieberman. It was amazing. I mean I was joking in my studio: ‘If it is Vogue, don’t answer.’ I used to say: ‘If Lieberman calls, say I am busy.’ I had a studio, I was doing commercial work. Of course that was the dream - every photographer at the time wanted to work for American Vogue. And one day I get this phone call. It was Lieberman. I said: ‘Come on, don’t joke.’ to my assistant. It was him. He said: ’Oh, I have seen this picture of yours. I would like to meet you.’ I said: ‘What..? When?’ And he replied: ‘Well you know, actually I am very busy but could you come in Sunday morning?’ And I went there, I met him and he really propelled me to the next level. At the time it was like graduating from university. If you had a job for American Vogue with Alex Lieberman, it was like having a
AG: What is the role of obsession in Art?
MG: Oh, you have to be obsessed to do this. It is very important. You cannot do it if you are not obsessed. You cannot explain why people would work until four or five in the morning if they were not obsessed. I mean, listen, I used to have a studio in New York, until five or six I did the commercial work and then I would take half an hour break and then I would start doing the editorial or the personal work afterwards. You had to be obsessed to do that instead of going out with your friends. This went on for years it never stopped. Obsession in a very good thing.
AG: I am obsessed.
MG: Of course you are obsessed, you are my dawghter. If you are obsessed with something that is important, it is difficult, it may be painful, it could be hard but it makes you produce results that otherwise you would not achieve.
AG: Tell me about this book.
MG: I have done many books actually. I think there are about fifteen. But in this book I am going to put a little bit of everything that I have done. It is not just the models. It is a way to see what those fifty years of working every day consisted of, basically. There is stuff that people do not even know I have done. I would say it is definite because not much is going to happen after that in terms of new things. A little bit maybe, hopefully, but not that much. So it should be like closing a circle. And then of course, hopefully, there are going to be other books but I am not going to make them. Your sister Adrianna wants to make a book with all my old polaroids already. You, surely, are going to do something in twenty years or so. So, of course, there are going to be others but not by me, where I am personally involved. Also I am doing this book with the family, with you, with Adriana. It is a support...you were talking about comfort zone. Maybe that is my
PS. Photography, as we new it, is Dead, killed by the internet and the I-Phone. I believe that it is a good thing. As Humans we should always look ahead, don’t stop progress. I think that it’s democracy at work, no more overpaid “Great Photographers” everybody with an I-Phone can do it, Halleluya and good luck with your Selfies.
Alessia Glaviano is Senior Photo Editor at VOGUE ITALIA. L’UOMO VOGUE and Web Editor of VOGUE.IT