“I’ve gone from top models to beautiful homes.”
In the early 1980s, photographer François Halard worked for Decoration International in Paris. Then Alex Lieberman, the art director at Condé Nast, called on him and he moved to New York.
In May 2011 I asked him:
How did you get started in this business?
At Vanity Fair, Vogue America, and GQ. I am very close with Beatrice Monti. Her husband Gregor Von Rezzori was a friend, and thanks to the two of them, I met Bruce Chatwin with whom I spent some unforgettable holidays in Greece. In Lindos actually where I did a feature on pre-Fascist and post-Fascist architecture.
What was Chatwin like?
I had the opportunity to photograph his flat in London. It was the first time I’d seen a minimalist home inside a building from the eighteenth century. We later went to Greece on holiday and then Bruce had to write a piece about the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Chatwin was well educated and captivating, and he had an absolutely personal relationship with everything he described. He was a truly free person, and if he didn’t like something, he kept his distance.
Why is it that Italy has been a big passion in your life?
My parents didn’t let me travel a lot. I knew Germany because I knew the German language well. I knew Ireland and England. My first trip to Italy was to Milan for the Salone del Mobile furniture fair, when I was eighteen years old. My parents were among the first to collect and deal in design pieces by Sottsass and Castiglioni in France.
What about your encounter with the island of Capri and the Italian sea?
Beatrice Monti spoke to me about Malaparte and Raoul Coutard, a friend of my cousin’s who had been in charge of photography on Godard’s film “Contempt,” which was based on Moravia’s novel of the same name. This is why I took a series of photographs of the Casa Malaparte in Capri. I was interested in how Godard, Moravia, Lang, Brigitte Bardot, and Malaparte himself all came together in that place.
Why were you so interested in the architect and photographer Carlo Mollino?
I was intrigued by his erotic Polaroids. I liked the fact that his flat was only meant to host attractive, erotic illusions while he actually lived at his mother’s home. He was interested in the great architect Piranesi and Japanese gardens, and he would design the undergarments, shoes, and every detail of the clothing worn by his models. I have never understood whether he had a sexual relationship with those beautiful girls or not.
Why did you photograph the Park of Monsters in Bomarzo?
I’ve always been curious about these gardens, and then they inspired me to also take an interest in Villa Palagonia in Bagheria, which is another truly incredible place. I finished my Italian journey at the Villa Medici in Rome. And I even went to Balthus’ Swiss home because I was so drawn to the way he lived and his extraordinary works.
Many of your Italian works, including photographs of Casa Malaparte, Villa Medici, the Bomarzo Gardens, and Mollino’s flat in Turin, will be shown at the Cloisters of Saint Peter in Reggio Emilia starting on 6 May 2011?
This is where the prestigious photography festival founded by Luigi Ghirri is held. For the exhibition in Reggio Emilia, I also did a piece about him, with some help from his wife. Ghirri was a truly fundamental figure for me.
Speaking of which, who were the masters you looked up to?
Aside from Luigi Ghirri, there was Twombly. As a young boy, I looked at Vogue America. Then there’s Helmut Newton who once came to my parents’ home to take photographs. I thought it was fantastic that one could use a camera to create his own illusions.
Why did you choose to live between New York and Arles?
Lieberman called me to the Big Apple. I found the house of my life in the French city of Arles almost by mistake. It’s a building from the eighteenth century that belonged to a noble family that was on the extreme right, linked to Charles Maurras and Action Française. I had to exorcize the building to get rid of its reactionary past.
How do you like Arles?
It’s not a very French city. From a historical point of view, it’s a very unique Roman city.
What does fashion mean to you?
It’s a job, but it’s also the best way to meet women, travel, and have experiences. As a young man, I was quite closed off and timid. I actually struggled to speak up to age fourteen. Then all of a sudden I found myself working with the most beautiful women in the world, from Christy Turlington to Laetitia Casta.
Be honest. You’ve had relationships with models as well, haven’t you?
No. Even so, I was still too timid. At the most, I had a few liaisons with female fashion editors. I find being an old male fashion photographer to be pathetic. This is why I only portray historic houses today.
1st May 2011