This is the twenty-seventh dialogue from the Ettore Molinario Collection. A dialogue that for the first time brings together two photographs by the same author, Frank Horvat. And I think no one better than this master has been able to talk about imagination and desire, and how men imagine women’s desire.
He looked at them and let himself be looked at. Frank Horvat looked at women and made them one of the themes of his very long career, in reportage, in fashion, in research. Like no other great author, he let women return his gaze and even photograph him. I don’t think it was a matter of equality, feminism has nothing to do with it, instead it was a subtle game of seduction and perhaps self-analysis at a time when the camera was still an object for the few and those few were almost all men.
In 1956, at the age of twenty-eight, after a long journey in India and Pakistan, after having lived in London, after having been chosen by Edward Steichen for the epic exhibition The Family of Man, Frank Horvat arrives in Paris. And in Paris, Black Star agency asks him to report on the night, the hot night of Pigalle, the night of men who look at women. Bribing the usher, Horvat enters the Le Sphynx cabaret and here he meets Yvette, a twenty-year-old stripper, as beautiful as one of Antonio Canova’s Three Graces, the same light in her skin, the same softness in her body. Only the hair, which recalls Marilyn Monroe in the movie Bus Stop, shot that same year, speaks of the present. When Fiammetta Horvat, the master’s wonderful daughter, showed me this image, essential in my collection, she also showed me the contact-sheets. In the sequence of thirty-six frames, a very short distance from the one chosen for the press, Horvat portrays himself in the dressing room mirror together with Yvette. A moment later offers the camera to the girl, who shortly becomes « his » girlfriend, and he let her portray him. Four shots, two blurry, two in focus. Four, like the cardinal points for a woman to explore male power in every direction, and touch the instrument that makes the photographic gaze so predatory and different from the others.
If I decided to start this collection thirty years ago it is because photography has allowed me to look and see, to look at myself and to be looked at for the man I am. And when, five minutes after having chosen Yvette, I felt that I should have « another Horvat », I understood that the image-companion, my other companion on the journey inside the work of this extraordinary author – to whom the Jeu de Paume dedicates a magnificent retrospective – should be the image that brings together Iris Bianchi, in French high fashion for Harper’s Bazaar, and the strippers of the Crazy Horse. No one before Frank Horvat had gone so far in the game of provocation and awareness. No one, not even Helmut Newton, had yet said that the nude is actually a dress, and that fashion is dressing and undressing, and that the audience for this show, strip-tease or catwalk, is only one: male desire.
With extreme elegance, anticipating Fellini in 8½ and Truffaut in The Man Who Loved Women, Horvat had imagined that it was precisely women who told this little truth, no longer contemplating the photographer or his reflection in the mirror, but looking at each other in a game of allusions and correspondences. That encounter between women was the dream of a harem where every creature danced, dressed, smiled and offered itself in its nakedness to Horvat’s gaze, to mine, to that of every man. It was a dream, the most sublime of all. I don’t know how to take pictures, but great photographers take pictures for me too.