Last summer we spent our annual holiday weekend in a small museum in the north of England discussing the life of a man who had hung himself 30 years previous.
And folk say we don’t know how to relax.
The town was Macclesfield and the subject was Joy Division singer Ian Curtis.
Unquestionably one of the truly iconic figures in music history, the cult around Curtis is based to a large extent on a combination of his early death and the photos of the band.
One of the speakers at the conference in Macclesfield was Kevin Cummins, the man who was responsible for almost all published Joy Division images and who photographed the band on numerous occasions for the music paper NME.
During the discussion he “admitted” that the fact that only black and white photos of the band exist is the result of a “brand marketing” decision made by the record label. A decision which was fully supported by the NME.
Similarly it was also decided that Curtis should look serious and glum in all photos. There are photos in Cummins’ archive that show Curtis smiling and messing about.
But they were never used. Didn’t fit in with the required image.
And so through the contrivance of record company and media Ian Curtis will for ever remain a miserable, monotone figure.
A legend created by photos.
Marirosa Ballo examines the exhibition "Zoom Italian Design and the Photography of Aldo and Marirosa Ballo" at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein
“Zoom. Italian Design and the Photography of Aldo and Marirosa Ballo” examines a similar subject.
Aldo and Marirosa Ballo are perhaps the most important and influential furniture photographers of all time and played a major role in establishing the modern legend of Italian design.
However whereas Kevin Cummins was complicit in creating the Ian Curtis legend; Aldo and Marirosa Ballo’s role was more unintentional.
For Aldo and Marirosa Ballo the object itself was always the most important and the principle aim of their work was concerned with creating the most natural and expressive photos of the pieces possible.
To this end they developed many technical and process innovations that are today standard in industrial and product photography.
However, despite the innovation of the Ballo’s work, for most of us what remains is simply an incomparable and unrepeatable series of photos that helped establish Italy as one of the most important post-war furniture design nations.
Aldo and Marirosa Ballo’s photos graced the title and inner pages glossy design magazines, their portraits of Italian designers were seen by a global audience and against a background of increasing financial stability and economic growth their images spoke to a new European generation looking to move on from the styles and furnishings of their parents.
Through the work of Aldo and Marirosa Ballo Italian design became a by-word for quality. And something highly desirable.
As we say that wasn’t their aim, but that’s how it evolved.
Curator Mathias Schwartz-Clauss guides visitors through the exhibition
Starting in the 1950s “Zoom. Italian Design and the Photography of Aldo and Marirosa Ballo” takes the visitor not only on a journey through four decades of Italian design but also on a journey through the development of professional designer furniture marketing and the establishment of the “star designer”
The exhibition is laid out such that one has the object, the photos and the magazines/advertising material all in close proximity and so the visitor has the complete overview of the process and the context.
The effect is such that one can see that despite the fact that the photos created the legend, the articles themselves are more than worthy of the status they achieved.
It’s also a wonderful collection of over 300 fascinating photos that do the designs justice.
As a collective whose life revolves around furniture, furniture fairs, product launches and the like we are well aware how important photos are in the designer furniture world.
No one really reads texts. We know that.
But everyone looks at the photos. Which is why today’s furniture industry invests such immense sums of money every year in ensuring that the press photos for new products are perfect. That’s whats going to attract the public interest.
The techniques and philosophy they use to achieve this are largely the same and/or permutations of those developed by Aldo and Marirosa Ballo.
And that makes their work just as relevant today as it was then.
And the exhibition well worth a visit.
“Zoom. Italian Design and the Photography of Aldo and Marirosa Ballo” runs until October 3rd at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein.
More information can be found at: www.design-museum.de
Furniture photography. Point. Shoot. Fame and riches. If only!
Selene by Vico Magistretti for Artemide part of "Zoom. Italian Design and the Photography of Aldo and Marirosa Ballo"