Carla Sozzani

Interview & Photography by: Mart Engelen

Carla Sozzani, Milan 2018
 

Carla Sozzani, Milan 2018


 
 

Mart Engelen: When did you start collecting photographs?
Carla Sozzani: Well, I never actually realised I was collecting. I started working in fashion in 1968 and was extremely fortunate to work with very many different photographers. I just bought or kept photographs I liked. The first picture I really bought was in 1974; it was an Irving Penn picture from his Warrior series. But over the years, I never realised I was collecting. That was not my intention. It was more to keep memories of my life, of what I was doing. Or if I liked a photograph. Or sometimes if you build a special relationship with a photographer you are working with. When I opened the gallery in 1999, I started by buying the photograph of the invitation. That was like a memory—I was only buying what had meaning to me. I never intended to build a collection in the traditional sense.
ME: That’s very interesting because, for example, Jean Dieuzaide opened the first photographic gallery in France in 1975. So at that time photography was not at all collectable. CS: Absolutely! And not even when I opened the gallery in Milan in 1999. Everybody thought it was a crazy idea because the area was considered the outskirts of the city. The place was a garage. But today all this is considered very normal. And, at the time, Milan was a rather extravagant place and there was no photographic gallery. So I was not really collecting. And then later my friend Azzedine Alaïa, who used to come here a lot, said, “We have to do an exhibition of your collection in the gallery in Paris”. I said, “I don’t have a collection. I have a collection of memories (laughs) of forty or fifty years of my work”. So Azzedine asked Fabrice Hergott, who was the director of the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, to be the curator of the exhibition and to make a book. So I gave him all the photographs I had and he made a choice. ME: When was this?
CS: It was two years ago.
ME: Oh yes, that beautiful book. And while the title is Between Art and Fashion, there are other pictures and two in the book that I really love are by Don McCullin.
CS: I actually have a huge collection of Don McCullin. We shared so many moments talking when he came and spent a few days here for the exhibition. And his life is so interesting. And that has meaning for me; each photograph I own has a story. Actually, I wanted to write a story for each picture in the book. Maybe another time. (Laughs.)
ME: I think so. It will be twenty years of writing. (Laughs.) You also have a collection of photographs by Helmut Newton….
CS: Yes, we were actually just looking at a short film that June (Helmut’s wife) made when we did a shooting in Monte Carlo. But the one I really like is the one he gave to me. It’s in the book. It’s a self-portrait in front of the Courbet painting L’origine du monde in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Helmut gave it to me because I had done a Jean Baptiste
Mondino exhibition and the invitation was a guy in front of that famous, or perhaps I should say notorious, nude by Courbet. I remember some people were really offended and said to me, “How can you send an invitation like that. We have children”, etc. As I told Helmut, “They don’t see anything. They just see the nude and not the art in it”. A couple of months later he came back and gave me his self- portrait in front of the Courbet painting. He told me that he had asked two Japanese tourists to take the picture of him in front of the painting but they were really shocked and he had to take it himself. That was really funny. (Laughs.) So this was a story behind a story.
ME: If you look at photography today, what do you see? CS: Well, there are two ways of looking at it. There is a commercial part where photography has become art. It became a commercial business because at the time it was not considered as art. Which in one way was not good but in another way it was not building up ridiculous prices like today, which makes no sense. Forget the fact that anybody can be a photographer but that’s not so bad because they can express themselves. In a way…
ME: But they all think they are photographers. But that’s another discussion.
CS: Indeed, that’s another discussion. When we have the World Press Photo exhibition here in the gallery, everybody wants to come and see it, probably because they relate to themselves. But yesterday I was in Venice, walking along a street and there was a guy lying on the ground and I saw a young girl stopping to take a picture and the guy couldn’t even move. I felt awful and I thought to myself, this is the bad effect of photo-journalism. Everybody thinks they can take advantage of anybody. I think this is not good. I even have the impression that they can’t see what they are doing. They don’t even enjoy the moment they are living in.
ME: We can say that with the current exhibition in the Helmut Newton Foundation, a certain circle is complete. I mean all that the pictures represent personal stories but also personal relationships you have and have had with Helmut and many other artists.
CS: That’s right. There is a part with Helmut, Sarah Moon, Paolo Roversi and Bruce Weber; four people I was always very close to. Over the years, we became a kind of family. So for me it’s more than an exhibition, it’s also family memories. ME: One day when you are not here anymore, what will happen to the collection?
CS: Well, in 2016, I set up a foundation to protect all this. At least I can live with the thought that everything is protected in one piece. Azzedine always told me we have to leave a trace of what we do in this life. I don’t know if that will happen or not but it’s nice to live with that thought.
 
—Copyright 2018 Mart Engelen