All images courtesy of Phillips. Article submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by DJ Pangburn.
When not managing a glass mosaic business with his sister, Italian photography collector Piero Bisazza is busy tracking down Polaroid artworks. And not just any Polaroid artworks. Bisazza is always on the lookout for instant photographs taken by some of the 20th century’s most revered and iconic photographers. Several dozen of these photographs, taken by luminaries such as Helmut Newton, Andy Warhol, Nobuyoshi Araki and others, will be exhibited as part of Phillips’s inaugural ULTIMATE Evening & Photographs Day Sales in London on May 18th.
Bisazza tells Polaroid Originals that his quest for fine art Polaroid photos took root in the 1970s and intensified over the ensuing decades. In many ways, it has to do with this love for “machine” itself. For long periods of his life, Bisazza used an SX-70 and other Polaroid cameras to capture instant analog images.
But it was a chance encounter with Helmut Newton at a Los Angeles hotel, whose name now escapes Bisazza, that set the collector on a collision course with Polaroid photos. Bisazza was at the hotel for Karl Lagerfeld’s first collection for Chanel, which is where he first saw Newton’s works.
“They were cool, sexy, and showed scribblings on the front of the photos,” recalls Bisazza. “Polaroid photos were the beginning of an idea for Newton, Warhol, and other photographers. The instant photos were what was on their minds at the time, and they were unique.”
“Warhol used it as a preparatory process for his silkscreen, and Carlo Mollino in the late 1960s in Turino, Italy was doing some very private photos of his girlfriends at his pied-à-terre,” says Bisazzi. (Some of Mollino’s Polaroid works will also be exhibited in the Phillips auction.) “They’re so private, so intimate. But they all used it differently, and each Polaroid picture carries a very strong signature and identity of the photographer.”
Bisazza remembers Newton as being super shy and reserved. It was the latter stage of the photographer’s life and career, and Bisazza only wished to express his admiration for Newton’s work. It was some time later that he managed to track some of the photographer’s Polaroid photos down and obtain them.
Bisazza’s relationship with Araki was completely different. By the time he met Araki, Bisazza had been collecting Polaroid pictures for quite a long time. He asked, without much hope, if Araki wanted to be part of his company’s advertising campaign. Araki quickly consented to the project.
“Araki was super generous,” says Bisazza. “We went to Tokyo for two days and he kept shooting and shooting and shooting. The second day was a free day to do whatever he wanted. To this day, we have several unique pictures that he only did for us.”
While Newton and Araki’s Polaroid work features the eroticism for which they are both well known, Bisazza isn’t into collecting the work for that purpose. He acknowledges the eroticism and the fact that he is attracted to it, but Bisazza says he is drawn more to the overall aesthetics of Newton and Araki’s imagery.
“Of course Newton has a more urban, black-and-white sexuality, but at the same time it’s all transcended by the aesthetics of the image,” says Bisazza. “With Araki, I feel completely in his universe. I look at forms, the relationships with the colors involved. Of course, the subject is this underlying female beauty that comes across, but I’ve trained my eye over the years, in a very humble way, to look at the image in an instinctual way.”
“The people at Phillips helped me look at the pictures with a different eye—a curatorial eye,” Bisazza adds. “When we were reviewing our collection, I saw the Polaroid photos all together, and I realized in the end that it’s my small homage to the ever-inspiring beauty of the female form, to female beauty. There is an aesthetic that runs through this pictures that transcends the merely erotic, sexual, or sensual appeal.”
Also featured in the collection are two Polaroid photos by Italian fashion photographer Paolo Roversi, with whom Bisazza has a good personal relationship. Roversi’s work differs markedly from the other photographers in Bisazza’s collection. Like Mapplethorpe’s photography, Roversi’s photos emphasize classical beauty and are devoid of props and other visual noise. But where Mappelthorpe’s black and white photos are minimal, Roversi’s have a rich but also otherworldly cinematic quality.
“Roversi only shoots in 8x10s Polaroid photos, and he showed me his refrigerator where he keeps hundreds of expired 8×10 Polaroid packs that he still uses,” says Bisazza. “You never know what will come out of them, but he loves them. You have these people who are passionate about Polaroid, and it’s remarkable.”
“With Robert Mapplethorpe, I’m very fond of his photography in general,” he adds. “The classical beauty, the composition, the wonderful black and whites, like with the portrait of Patti Smith.”
Bisazza is also enthusiastic about his love for Peter Beard’s photographs. Unlike the other photographers in Bisazza’s Polaroid collection, Beard embellished and defaced his instant photos with other media.
“He used ink and blood, and is are color and scribblings all over the place—it’s the very opposite of the classical composition of Mapplethorpe’s photographs,” Bisazza explains. “I’ve always liked his work: the African adventures, models in Kenya, animals in landscapes; and then at the same time his social life in the Hamptons and with Andy Warhol in Montauk, the super cool late 70s New York where everybody knew each other. You can tell from a mile away that it’s a Peter Beard photograph.”
“Some photographers tend to just talk about their greatest works, and I’m sure a photographer like Irving Penn, who was obsessed with the perfection of the work, would have treated a Polaroid image like a sketch and not worth showing the world,” says Bisazza. “But with the Polaroid versus a finished print, there is more of a freedom of being themselves. So I think the Polaroid carries more of their identity, and this is why I’ve kept looking for Polaroid photos from photographers I admire for many years.”
Bisazza is also drawn to the tactile beauty of a Polaroid photograph. He likes that it is a material object. And in this digital age, Bisazza sees the instant analog magic as all the more remarkable.
“It’s like a small jewel,” muses Bisazza. “There is a rediscovering of beauty in the physical print. And a Polaroid print is so beautiful in and of itself.”