Francesco Zanot for Camera – Italian Centre for Photography: L’occhio magico di Carlo Mollino. Fotografie 1934-1973

The exhibition L’occhio magico di Carlo Mollino. Fotografie 1934-1973 (The Magic Eye of Carlo Mollino. Photographs 1934-1973), curated by Fantom’s Francesco Zanot, is on view at Camera – Italian Centre for Photography, from 18 January to 13 May 2018.

The exhibition traces Carlo Mollino’s entire photographic production, in an itinerary featuring more than 500 images from the archive of the Politecnico di Torino. Among the best known and most celebrated architects of the 20th century, Carlo Mollino always had a special place for photography, using it both as an expressive medium and a fundamental tool of documentation and archiving of both his work and his everyday life.

This exhibition, the largest and most complete every staged on the theme, investigates the relationship between Mollino and photography, highlighting its uniqueness and the recurring features, starting from the early images of architecture produced in the 1930s right up to the Polaroids from the last years of his life.

Following in the footsteps of his father Eugenio, an engineer and keen photographer, Carlo Mollino approached this expressive medium as a young man, developing not only a vast corpus of images midway between the traditional canon, of which he had a thorough knowledge, and the drive towards experimentation, but he also developed a peculiar critical awareness that led him in 1949 to publish Il messaggio dalla camera oscura (‘The Message from the Darkroom’): an innovative and fundamental volume for the promotion of photographic culture in Italy and for its acceptance among the main art forms.

The exhibition thus sets out to investigate the extraordinary complexity and depth of Carlo Mollino’s reflections on photography, couching it in the history of this discipline, along a path that alternates between great classics and entirely new works, never previously displayed. Going beyond any classification between genres, incompatible with the very multi-faceted nature of Carlo Mollino’s opus – who would simultaneously carry out very different projects and interests, inevitably making them converge – the exhibition is split into four thematic sections, each titled with a citation from his writings.

In the first section, ‘Mille case’ (One thousand houses), the images concerning the theme of living are brought together, obviously characterising a fundamental portion of Mollino’s photographic work: apart from the images of buildings, here we also find the still-life images of domestic objects, portraits set in the famous interiors designed by him, and a series of snapshots taken during his trips serving as visual notes on more or lesser-known architectural structures, from the houses in wood and straw of the Romanian countryside to the Guggenheim Museum by Frank Lloyd Wright in New York, and from the Dutch windmills to the Chandigarh by Le Corbusier.

The second section, ‘Fantasie di un quotidiano impossibile’ (Fantasies of an impossible everyday life), revolves around the atmosphere and the surrealist inspirations that pervade a part of Mollino’s photographic works. This is the freest and most unforeseeable section of the whole show. It includes very diverse photographs, all designed to question the reality represented: there are images of shop windows reminiscent of those shot in Paris by Eugène Atget, Man Ray’s favourite photographer; isolated objects in the frame, endowed with a mysterious sense of life; mirrors that hide and multiply everything; photographs of other photographs; photomontages of architectural projects created on the basis of small-scale models, up to a selection of precious images taken from his publication ‘Occhio magico’, 1945.

‘Mistica dell’acrobazia’ (The mystic of acrobatics) is the title of the third section, entirely dedicated to another very special interest of Carlo Mollino: that for speed, movement and dynamics. The section brings together photographs on the theme of flight, which Mollino undertook as a training acrobatic pilot; on that of motoring, with particular attention to the matter of the Bisiluro, the car designed by him (together with Mario Damonte and Enrico Nardi) and with which he entered the ‘24 Hours Le Mans’ in 1955; and that of skiing, with a selection of photographs of the tracks traced by skiers in the snow, as sinuous  as the design outlines used by the Turinese genius.

The fourth and final section, ‘L’amante del duca’ (The duke’s lover), is the largest of the whole show, with more than 180 photographs selected, focusing on the theme of the body and the pose. Here we have a comparison between two key themes in Mollino’s photographic corpus: his female portraits (as well as the famous Polaroids) and his skiers. Both are the fruit of a meticulous staging operation on Mollino’s part, showing a particular attention to the control of the pose, obsessively returning to the same gestures. The skiers are caught in positions that identify the perfection of the technical gesture, while the women, reminiscent of ancient statuary, relentlessly replicate similar poses, against the background of the same settings and dressed in the same clothes.

The exhibition comes to a close with a number of documents, including letters, handwritten and typed manuscripts, and a series of postcards collected by Carlo Mollino from every corner of the globe, which as well as an attitude of constant research and curiosity, reflect his vivid interest in photography in every declination and expression. All the materials on show, apart from a number of duly marked exceptions, come from the collections of the Politecnico di Torino, the Archives of the Gabetti Library, and the Carlo Mollino Collection.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication issued by Silvana Editoriale faturing reproductions of all the works on show, along with essays by Francesco Zanot, Enrica Bodrato, Fulvio Ferrari and Paul Kooiker.

Carlo Mollino – a designer, a photographer, a writer, a ski instructor, pilot and designer of cars and airplanes – is today acknowledged as one of the most strikingly original creators of mid-century Italian architecture, design and photography. Born in Turin in 1905, Mollino studied mechanical engineering and art history, followed by architecture at Turin University before working in the architectural practice of his father, Eugenio Mollino. In the mid 1930s he began to design the elaborately surreal interior of his home, the Casa Miller, and in 1938 completed the Casa Devalle. From the very beginning, these two domestic interiors, established Mollino as a forthright and flamboyant architect operating in an idiom entirely of his own creation. His major work of the 30s is the head office of the Horse Society in Turin. As far as his architectonic production is concerned, we can remember: the station for sludgeway with hotel at Lago Nero in Aosta Valley, the RAI auditorium in Turin, the monument to the Dead for Liberty. Carlo Mollino also did a great deal of interior decoration in both private houes and public buildings. Furthermore, Mollino’s writings contributed to the dialogue on arts, techniques of skiing, critiques of cinema and the first compendium on the history of photography that was ever published in Italy. Throughout his life Mollino maintained two consistent pastimes, those of photography and eroticism. Mollino explored eroticism in photography, however it was subsequent to his encounter with Polaroid instant cameras in 1963 that he abandoned all other types of photographic equipment, preferring the instantaneous uniqueness of the Polaroid print. Mollino died in 1973, and for such a versatile creator, there now remains remarkably little physical evidence by which to define him. Also his polaroids are extremely rare being all unique objects that Mollino always considered as very intimate and personal projects never shown publicly. Today, the Mollino’s works are held in the collections of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Brooklyn Museum in New York, among others.

L’occhio magico di Carlo Mollino. Fotografie 1934-1973
From January 18 to May 13, 2018
Camera – Italian Centre for Photography 
Via delle Rosine 18, Turin