In 2019, an array of photographs by Paolo Di Paolo, who is now 97, was hung in the galleries of Rome’s National Museum of 21st Century Art. The city’s newspapers were abuzz and dubbed him Italy’s “forgotten photographer.” Di Paolo’s black-and-white photographs of Europe’s most glamorous people date back to the 1950s and 1960s. Critics soon realized that here were some of the most emblematic records of postwar Italy.
Di Paolo’s beginnings were humble. He was born in 1925, in the small town of Larino, Molise, to working-class parents. As a child, he has said, he dreamed of escape, and in 1939 he made his way to Rome, to study philosophy. In the late 1940s, Di Paolo bought a Leica IIIc and became a spectator. Rome was his glittering cinema set—he shot both its aristocrats and its homeless.
Di Paolo traveled to Versilia with Pier Paolo Pasolini, went on beach days with Anna Magnani, and sent flowers to Gloria Swanson’s hotel room. A candid shot catches Kim Novak ironing in her bedroom. “We were finally allowed to leave the box,” Di Paolo once said, “and we were so excited to discover the world.”
One day, in 1968, a magazine editor told Di Paolo he would stop publishing his work unless he brought in “some spice.” Because the salacious world of the paparazzi wasn’t for him, Di Paolo put his camera in a drawer and never spoke of Ezra Pound, Brigitte Bardot, or any of his prominent friends again. It wasn’t until the late 1990s, when his daughter, Silvia, was looking for a pair of skis in the cellar, that his archive of negatives came to light. Di Paolo had never told her he was once a photographer.
In Bruce Weber’s The Treasure of his Youth: The Photographs of Paolo Di Paolo, a new film that opens at New York’s Film Forum early next month, the fellow photographer traces Di Paolo’s 16-year career through his most memorable shots. “Looking at and working with Paolo di Paolo’s photographs over the years … reminded me so much of seeing my grandmother’s and father’s photographs from their many trips to Italy through the ’50s and ’60s,” Weber tells me. “I share Paolo’s appreciation for the expression and joy discovered while photographing something or someone you love.” Some of the candor and the intimacy that emerges in Di Paolo’s work is typical of Weber, too. —Elena Clavarino
The Treasure of His Youth: The Photographs of Paolo Di Paolo opens at Film Forum, in New York, on December 9
Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor for Air Mail