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A   R E T R O S P E C T I V E

Opening reception
Saturday June 1st
5:00  – 10:00 PM

A t e l i e r
G a l l e r y



On the evening of Saturday June 1st, from 5:00 – 10:00 pm Atelier Gallery is proud to announce the opening of Arimondi: A Retrospective. This champagne and chocolate reception will be the world release opening of this collection. The exhibit, which consists of over 100 images spanning 40 years of work, will be on display and for sale permanently at  Atelier Gallery. Located at 2354 Market st – Penthouse San Francisco, ca 94114

This event is open to the public, however you must call to be placed on the guest list.

Atelier Gallery: 2354 Market St - Penthouse San Francisco, ca 94114     415.861.8216

Laura Richard Janku

The instantaneous and portable quality of the camera often makes it difficult—and unthinkable—for photographers to draw boundaries between art and life. And because photography is the handmaiden to popular culture, the line separating commercial and fine art is equally tenuous, encouraging creative cross-pollination. The work and life of Victor Arimondi epitomizes such hybridization. He knew the camera from both sides: in front as a model and behind as an artist. His images fall into four general, but in no way tidy, categories: fashion, portrait, still life, and erotic. Arimondi pushed the limits of one genre into the next, resulting in diverse works open to interpretation. His collages comprise another entirely separate body of informal pictures in which images became objects for new photographs that subsequently were used as postcards. Such was the all-consuming relationship between Arimondi and the camera: together they created a distinctive and personal perspective on and connection with the world.

Born in 1942, Vittorio Maria Arimondi left his native Italy in 1961 to attend art school in Stockholm, where his family had lived for a couple of years during his childhood. In 1965, he had his first encounter with the camera, as its subject. His natural good looks and need to support himself had led him to modeling where he quickly established himself. Over the next seven years he worked in Paris, Milan, London, Germany, New York, and Montreal on a spectrum of assignments from Vogue to Bazaar.

But despite success and glamour, Arimondi felt unfulfilled. He later explained: “Working with talented photographers for so many years made me realize that it could be a way to express my inner world.” So he decided to get behind the camera. Naturally, he gravitated to what he knew best: fashion photography where he built an international portfolio with spreads for I. Magnin, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Vogue. Iconic images such as: Ancha, 1975; Dovanna, New York,  1978; Grace Jones, San Francisco, 1981, Muse, 1990 illustrate his penchant for dramatic light and dynamic drapery, a bit of theatre for the commercial stage.

In Stockholm he took compelling portraits of Swedish aristocracy. Beautiful soft images of Harriet Anderson, Sweden, 1974, Elsie Hartman, Sweden, 1974, Inga Fishof Arnoldsson, Sweden, 1974, revealed the sitters’ humanity and the tight cropping of the compositions focused on them as real people, rather than society figures. Knowing looks, unusual angles and diffuse luminosity collaborated to draw out their personalities. He deftly used contrast to offset textured patterns of hair and lined skin with areas of bright and shadow.

Arimondi’s experimentation with the still-life genre produced some of his most original and interesting images. While it can be argued that many of his nudes and fashion photographs were a form still life, such as Dovanna, New York, 1978 and Erotic Study 5, San Francisco, 1999 the works devoid of life announce a new direction. Many, like Still Life (Letter), 1980, Still Life (Powder Puffs), 1980 and Still Life (Bones), 1980 are primarily formal studies with symbolic content in the historical tradition of still life: letter as a metaphor for rational knowledge, powder puffs as vanity, skull and bones as mortality. Even when depicting objects Arimondi chooses those with strong human traces and connections.

Other still lifes use unexpected props to contrive narratives whose surface humor belies darkness. This is most evident in the 1972 images of mannequin children that are complex and engaging. At first glance, the youths, bathed in angelic natural light, appear very real. But it quickly becomes apparent that not only are they dolls, but those of a bygone era. The flapper hair cuts and cupid bow lips invoke an innocence and nostalgia for the past, both historical and personal. Furthermore, the permanent smiles and rosy cheeks are at odds with the unsettling elements of their environments. The children are clustered uncharacteristically close together in a stark corner or next to an ominous radiator whose protective fence emphasizes its danger.. Similarly disquieting are the outdoor scenes where the children are frozen, both literally and by the camera, in the middle of the road or precariously close to a railroad track. These tableaus speak of innocence, vulnerability and objectification—all issues that abound in the world of fashion. This theme recurs more directly in Still Life, Mannequin 2, San Francisco, 1980. The playful use of chair as haute couture hat and the juxtaposition between living person and mannequin bound together by rope, clearly comments on the high humanitarian price in the name of far-out style.

In the early 1970s Arimondi began to photograph nude males and in 1975 they were first printed. Five years later The Look of Men a landmark book of male erotica was published. Throughout his career and life Arimondi would always find new ways to interpret the classic nude, weaving it into all the visual areas he investigated. For him the male figure was the epitome of formal beauty, naturally replete with meaning and association—the commonest human denominator. Whether portrait, self-portrait, fashion, still life or erotic, Arimondi used his lens and intuitive vision to transform naked to nude.

Tired of the compromises demanded by fashion and encouraged by the success of his book, Arimondi retired from commercial photography in 1981. This allowed him to turn his energy toward the purely creative. As he continued to depict the male figure, often using the photograph itself in conjunction with other props to create clever tongue-in-cheek works. In Erotic Study 1-4, 1989, he added colorful jewels to the surface of black and white glossies which he then rephotographed. A diamond brooch wittily becomes a loincloth and challenges the distinctions between reality and illusion and object and image.

In 1987 Arimondi began to venture beyond the formal values of the human figure into the realm of documentary. These new images of blue collar and construction workers were not only aesthetic, but socially conscious. He took this direction a step further in 1995 when he began photographing homeless men and women. Many of these portraits are full frontal face compositions akin to his earlier work with the Swedish gentry. Again, Arimondi combined warm rapport with visual frankness to bring out his subjects’ personal dignity and individuality. In this series there is a particularly poignant link between Arimondi’s past and present worlds: Ivy Nicholsson. Once a prominent haute couture model in the 1970s, Nicholsson, past her prime, struggled with life beyond youth and beauty and eventually became homeless. Arimondi serendipitously recognized her on the street and convinced her to pose for the camera once again. The portrait, Ivy Nicholsson, San Francisco, 1992 captures her pride and humanity in the same way that his images of homeless and gentility did, both groups with which Ivy identified. In a way, their meeting closed a circle in his photographic career: the physical magnificence that surrounded him in youth had become secondary to the exploration of inner beauty and compassion.

Victor Arimondi’s photography brings people from many different realms together. They are all united by his use of the camera as the great equalizer, giving each person their own space, time, and recognition. Even his still-lifes are oblique portraits, depicting human traces rather than bodies. The primacy of photography throughout his life reflected an obsession with individuals and communities. And as he matured, his interests grew from academically aesthetic to psychosocially aware. But for Arimondi, the human condition was not just to be documented, but borne out and survived through creativity and living itself.