Around 20 years ago, while rooting through her father’s cellar in search for a pair of skis, Silvia Di Paolo found a trunk containing 250,000 negatives, prints and slides. Aged 20 at the time, she had no idea that her father, Paolo Di Paolo, had been a photographer – let alone the top contributor to Il Mondo, one of Italy’s most popular current affairs magazines.
Born in Larino, Southern Italy, in 1925, Paolo Di Paolo moved to Rome in the aftermath of the Second World War, hoping to become a photographer. He secured the job at Il Mondo in 1954, where he worked for 14 years contributing 573 photographs, from reportage in Japan, Iran and New York, to portraits of some of the biggest names in cinema and art.
Shortly after the magazine folded in 1966, Di Paolo gave up photography. He felt he was “no longer in tune with the times” and turned his attention to philosophy and history, hiding his impressive archive of images in a cellar until their discovery more than 20 years later.
Now, after more than 50 years of neglect, over 250 of Di Paolo’s images will be exhibited at MAXXI in Rome [the National Museum of 21st Century Arts], thanks to Alessandro Michele, creative director at Gucci, who stumbled upon the photographs in a gallery/bookstore, and to the museum’s growing attention and research dedicated to photography. In collaboration with the museum, Gucci has now collected more than 300 of Di Paolo’s images, leading to this exhibition and a publication of the photographer’s work titled Fotografie.
Di Paolo’s images from the 1950s and 60s explore the many contradictions presented in post-war Italy, between both the rich and poor, and the old and new. A section of the exhibition titled Society/Rome presents images of young women strolling along the promenade in short-shorts, alongside images of agricultural communities that coexisted next to Ferrari workshops.
The photographer also became known for his intimate portraits of artists and intellectuals, which he arranged through personal connections. Among the discovered collection are photographs of film director Pier Paolo Pasolini visiting the Monte Testaccio in Rome, playwright Tennesse Williams on the beach with his dog, and actress Kim Novak ironing in her room at the Grand Hotel.
Di Paolo created a relationship based on empathy and trust and that made every shot unique and unmistakeable, writes his daughter Silvia. Many of his photographs were unpublished because he thought it would be inappropriate to give such intimate photographs to the press.
“Di Paolo found an independent, different, and cultured path,” says curator Giovanna Calvenzi. “He has the capacity to enter the world of art, literature and film with a light, and at times humorous, touch.”
Paolo Di Paolo. Mondo Perduto is curated by Giovanna Calvenzi, and will run at the MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome, Italy, from 17 April – 30 June https://www.maxxi.art/en/events/paolo-di-paolo-mondo-perduto/