1653292272 Paolo di Paolo the man who photographed Italy and decided

Paolo di Paolo, the man who photographed Italy and decided to disappear: “La ‘Dolce Vita’ never existed”

With a fate marked by such a double name, one could say that Paolo di Paolo (Larino, 97 years) was reincarnated twice. The first, a few months old, when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The only remedy the family doctor advised was to bathe the baby regularly in a pool filled with Negroamaro, a wine from southern Italy whose properties are said to wake up the child. No one knows how, but he was healed and is now almost a hundred years old.

The second came after feeling that he had already experienced many things and after becoming a photography myth decided to disappear. This second advent happened on the day when his daughter Silvia, without knowing anything about her previous life, was looking for old skis in the attic of her house and accidentally found a hidden treasure of hundreds of thousands of negatives that made up her father’s impressive ski Work. . A photography genius who, after only 16 years of work when he was at his best, decided to retire without leaving a trace.

Paolo di Paolo doesn’t bathe in wine anymore, he jokes as he settles into his chair. But at 97, he still drinks around a liter of red wine a day and dresses impeccably. The legendary photographer, worshiped by illustrious figures such as designer Alessandro Michele or photographer Bruce Weber (who recently premiered his documentary The Treasure of His Youth: The Photographs of Paolo Di Paolo at the Tui Play-Doc Festival), now lives in the popular neighborhood from San Lorenzo in Rome, with his wife. His daughter Silvia, who inadvertently exhumed his entire work, an archive of already published large portraits and another 254,000 unpublished negatives from the years 1954 to 1968, accompanies him during the interview.

The photographer Paolo di Paolo, in his home.The photographer Paolo di Paolo, in his home. Stefan Gifttaler

A man who gave up his career abruptly and locked part of his identity in a pile of old boxes. On that day in 1968 he resolved never again to speak of that world of stars, filmmakers, fabulous writers and journalists who adored him and which he has since lumped into the vague category of a lost world. It was on this very day that Il Mondo, the unique weekly newspaper that he had been working for with exuberant freedom and respect for the craft, closed. A closure that coincided with the emergence of the world of the paparazzi, il pettegolezzo and photography, conceived as an intruder in the lives of celebrities. Also with a certain personal boredom towards everything.

“Who wanted to repost my photos? TV had burned out the opportunity to do long and in-depth reports,” he says. “The final blow was when a newspaper director came up to me one day and said, ‘Anything that has some flavor, bring it to me, the doors are open.’ Sadly, I left his office and felt those doors actually close behind me. The world of scandals was not part of my job. And if I had insisted on going on, my decline would have started too and we certainly wouldn’t be here today.”

Panoramic view of Paolo di Paolo's office.A look into Paolo di Paolo Stefan Giftthaler’s office

Di Paolo’s work always oscillated between the delicacy of his gaze and the terrible gravity of fundamental figures of the time such as Oriana Fallaci, René Clair, Giorgio De Chirico, Ezra Pound, Marcello Mastroianni or Anna Magnani, whom he portrayed in an unusual intimacy in his home in Circeo with his handicapped son. He also documented the almost hidden rituals of ancient Roman black nobility, such as Princess Pallavicini’s grand coming-out ball, which he was the only photographer allowed to attend; or moments whose crackling, amidst the political silence of two eras, marked the definitive break with the past, like the funeral of the Secretary General of the Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti.

The country was already shaking with the first social detonations of the economic boom that modernized it in the 1960s and the growing social tensions. The miracle also divided him into two parts. A break staged from north to south that the country tried to sew up with important infrastructures such as the Autopista del Sol, which crossed Italy and whose inauguration the young Di Paolo photographed. That day, instead of photographing the bishop and mayor cutting the ribbon, Di Paolo climbed to the top of a hill and photographed a poor family in a shack from behind while he watched the first car hurtle through olive trees and fields that the land covered .ready to leave.

An iron-willed man who only wanted to be a philosophy teacher until he stumbled across a Leica III C in a shop window on the eve of his graduation, Di Paolo has always been an intellectual. An artist who sometimes cares more about the ethics than the aesthetics of his work. An island in the historic spring of the paparazzi, just as offices were filling with snipers outside the doors of restaurants and expensive hotels. He always hated it. “They made us feel embarrassed to go out on the street with cameras around our necks,” he recalls while sipping a soft drink his daughter brought him. He worked differently. When an actress arrived in Rome, he sent her a bouquet of flowers and a business card with a request that she be photographed.

Paolo di Paolo's hands hold his camera.Paolo di Paolo’s hands hold his camera.Stefan Giftthaler

Among others, he portrayed Kim Novak, who skipped the commotion that awaited him at the door of his hotel. “The paparazzi thing was a phenomenon fueled by Fellini. When I started there wasn’t one, but he made a model that they later copied. The dolce vita? It never existed. It is also an invention of him and his screenwriter. In his films he invented a whole world, far from it was a Rome that he did not know. But you see, people came from all over to experience this phenomenon on the Via Veneto and in the end they became the landscape.”

A print by Di Paolo, three sheikhs seated in Römerallee, evokes this vision. Di Paolo’s original group was four or five friends who wanted to express themselves artistically in some way, he recalls. “We have had different experiences. We had tremendous willpower because we came out of the end of the war. We weren’t unhappy because we didn’t know what happiness was. But suddenly we discovered the ability to dream and make dreams come true,” he explains. They wanted the truth, even in the photos. And partly because of that humility and work ethic, he’s had access to spaces other photographers would never have dreamed of. That’s why he was able to spend an entire summer accompanying a complicated character like Pier Paolo Pasolini (then a young writer and poet) to create a reportage entitled The Long Road of Sand. They spent half the journey in silence in Di Paolo’s MG convertible. But the resulting friendship and respect served the filmmaker and intellectual to open the doors of his home and make films like the Gospel of Matthew. “He was very serious, he believed in everything he did. Being on this shoot I was surprised by the deep respect the whole team had for him, always in silence. Some of the finest surviving photographs of the murdered filmmaker were signed by Di Paolo.

Books and photographs in a corner of Paolo di Paolo's office.Books and photographs in a corner of Paolo di Paolo’s Stefan Giftthaler office

But Di Paolo was tired of portraying him. Or it no longer fit into his family life, as his daughter emphasizes. He began working as an art director for the Carabinieri. He adapted to his monotonous aesthetics, to the systematic publication of his yearbook at the end of each year, and to a quiet and family life. “At the weekend he invited the mechanic and the painter to dinner. We never saw stars at home,” his daughter recalls at his side. Not even she knew exactly what her father had done until they left some of his photographs in a sort of antiquarian Roman bookshop called Maldoror (like the character of the Count of Lautréamont), which Di Paolo frequented. The owner was amazed that one day he had found this escaped star that no one else knew about, revealed it and the miracle happened.

Bruce Weber walked past this store and took them all without knowing who the author was. Mastroianni, Visconti, Pasolini appeared in the portraits… A fascinating and familiar world, but captured in a unique way. Upon arrival in the United States, the now controversial photographer discovered Di Paolo’s signature after every enlargement. Fascinated, he began to investigate, became obsessed with this guy, who had caused a terror in the style of Greta Garbo, and began a relationship with the Italian that led to the release of the documentary about a crucial work to understand Italy in the sixties. But sometimes miracles happen. As filming began, Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director, walked past the same antique dealer and had a similar feeling. Then he promoted a great exhibition about this universe: it took place three years ago at the MAXXI in Rome and the enormous impact of the work of this child, who survived thanks to wine, was forever confirmed.

You can follow ICON on Facebook, TwitterInstagram or subscribe to the newsletter here.