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Matinee: Gian Paolo Barbieri Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

23 September 2017

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 206th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Gian Paolo Barbieri.

This four minute interview with master fashion photographer Gian Paolo Barbieri was produced by Radiotelevision Svizzera, the Swiss broadcasting network, on the occasion of his one-man show In Viaggio at the 29 Arts in Progress gallery in Milan last June.

That exhibit included 30 of Barbieri's vintage gelatin silver prints and Polaroids, taken since the 1980s on his trips to tropical paradises like Tahiti, Madagascar, Seychelles and Polinesia.

How did a man who became famous for his meticulously staged, Dolce Vita shots of fashion models end up on the other side of the globe with nothing but his camera?

Almost in answer, the interview begins with the sound of his footsteps echoing in his large, well-lit studio as he walks over to his Technica view camera, which, he tells us, he has used all his life.

What does photography mean to him, the interviewer asks. He answers with the obvious. It stops a moment in time and that's important because that moment is vanishing.

He told himself he was a photographer, after all, and if he stopped taking fashion photos, he would still take photos.

Unless you know his personal story, the tragic loss of his soul mate in a motorcycle accident 26 years ago, that may seem like the obvious answer. But you'd be wrong to write him off as superficial.

His answers are not simple but direct. Without artiface. His first camera? "Voigtlander," he says without making a story out of it.

We never see the interviewer. Instead, in a nice touch, when the interviewer asks a question, we see a few of Barbieri's stunning black-and-white images of models and actresses, many of whom are familiar faces.

Who was his favorite?

Ah, he says, he was lucky because all the famous one were very kind to him. He never had any problems.

The problems came with the TV celebrities. "Starlets," he calls them. They don't have the same culture as the famous actresses "or the sensibility or the kindness," he explains.

As his exotic shots of the tropics flash over the screen, replacing the famous actresses, the interviewer asks why he started taking these photographs.

Fashion photography seemed obsolete, a kind of circus and he grew tired of it.

He told himself he was a photographer, after all, and if he stopped taking fashion photos, he would still take photos. So he went to Tahiti to see what he could do.

Why does he only do black-and-white photography?

He explains that black-and-white is important to him because it includes every tone, omitting nothing. Every black, white and gray in the world is included in the image. In a color image, instead, each person sees the colors as well as they can.

Black-and-white, he says, is more sophisticated, more difficult than color, which he calls very, very vulgar.

He has no regrets about his career, he says, because photography has taken him places he would never have gone.

And he has always been able to create what was in his mind, what he imagined.

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