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Matinee: 'Romano Cagnoni, War Photographer' Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

25 September 2021

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 415th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Romano Cagnoni, War Photographer.

This 2:17 video by Massimiliano Manzo pays tribute to the late photojournalist Romano Cagnoni whose images rank alongside Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bill Brandt, Don McCullin and W. Eugene Smith.

Cut from the last interview with Cagnoni, who died in January 2018, it begins with an appreciation of "the absurdity of my life." He refers to being bombed by the Americans, presumably in North Vietnam, just as he had been bombed by them as a boy in Italy during World War II.

His father was a marble polisher and his mother a homemaker. He learned photography after surviving the war and becoming an assistant in a local studio. When he learned the craft, he began working as a roving beach photographer in Versilia.

There he met an English woman named Helen Warby, who he followed back to London. After they married he started a wedding photography business. But not for the English. He shot the weddings for newly-arrived immigrants in Dalston and Hackney where the local studios refused the work.

He made a name for himself with a powerful image of Winston Churchill's funeral procession but his break came when he climbed down from a hotel rooftop to get a photo of Elizabeth Taylor and her husband Eddie Fisher from the balcony of their suite. The image paid enough for him to buy the gear he needed to go into photojournalism full time.

He says he often talked to his colleagues about war, why people go to war, why men fight. He covered dozens of conflicts from North Vietnam in 1965 to Syria in 2015. What he saw was the hopes of the humans suffering through these conflicts grow "thinner and thinner."

He once explained, "I would like to make it clear that I do not consider myself a war photographer, rather a photographer [who] knows what war means and how to document it."

It was this human side of war that he focused his lens on. That was the story he followed, the reality he chose to photograph. And it made him the most published Italian photographer of this time.

It was by following that story he found nothing less than "the very essence of life."

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