Elegantly Wasted: A Q&A With Robert Polidori, Photographer of Decay, on His New Bottega Veneta Campaign

Elegantly Wasted: A Q&A With Robert Polidori, Photographer of Decay, on His New Bottega Veneta Campaign

In a move that suggests its desire for a more serious campaign, Italian luxury label Bottega Venetaselected documentary photographer Robert Polidori to shoot its fall/winter 2011 collection. The choice is in keeping with its tradition of using artists to create its ad campaigns, which in the past has included Nan Goldin, Alex Prager, Robert Longo, andSam Taylor-Wood.

CXA+ART, the advertising agency that organized the collaboration, brought the two seemingly opposite forces together. Polidori is known for photographing abandonedinteriors and aerial views of more austere subjects, among them HurricaneKatrina and Chernobyl.His photos create haunting shadows of what once was, evoking emotion evenwithout the presence of a human being.


For the Bottega Veneta campaign shotwithin the rich interiors of Venice's16th century Palazzo Papadopoli (most recently the home of Victor Pinchuk's Future Generation Art Prize exhibition) and featuring Brazilian modelIsabeli Fontana Polidori chose to give the images a cinematic ambiance,proving he's indeed adept at crossing genres. In a candid interview with ARTINFO, Polidori discussesthe Bottega Veneta gig, his disinterest in fashion, crossing paths with YvesSt. Laurent early in his career, and the lasting effect Chernobyl had on him.

Are you into fashion at all?

I'm the first to admit I know very little about it. I guess I have anelitist attitude where I don't think something is art. However it doesn'tmatter, I try to make pictures that evoke some sort of psychological attitude.At the same time I'm also jealous of fashion people because I think they maketoo much money!

Why did you agree take on the Bottega Veneta campaign?

I wanted to try something I've never done before. It's inspiring to deal withthese crossovers between genres. I wanted to make my pictures look like stillsfrom a movie that's what I was trying to do.

Were you surprised they approached you?

Somewhat, but I knew Tomas Maier [Bottega Veneta's creative director] pickedinteresting, edgy artists to do his campaigns and he pretty much gives you freereign.

You shoot aerial landscapes, empty and abandonedinteriors of buildings, usually without people.  How did it differ toshoot a model for a fashion ad campaign for the first time?

The reason that I shoot empty rooms is that I'm interested in what is knownin Jungian psychology as the super ego. The super ego is the way people want tobe seen, so what people do in their rooms, what they put up on their walls, andtheir stuff, are things that they project out of themselves. I capture the waythey want others to see them.

When shooting this group of pictures at  Palazzo Papadopoli inVenice, did youtry to make the palace itself, the architecture, as much a subject in thephotographs as you did the models?

I was trying to do a 50/50deal, I don't think the photos are about the palazzo. It's mostly about themodels and the psychological ambiance that I try to set up with them.

Tell me about yourexperience with Yves St. Laurent.

The first job that I ever got to do in Paris, in the early 80s orlate 70s was to shoot a boutique for Yves St. Laurent, and I actually met himthen. He's a kind of an architect who designed the modern, western,contemporary woman's uniform. What women wear now, he invented. And it alwayslooked elegant. I know that's why he was popular because basically women wantto look good and men want women that look good.

Do you think you'll shoot more fashion?

Yes, I hope so. Certain brands I want to do - I'm not going to do stuff forCentury 21. I don't want to do product shots that much, though I did two orthree for this shoot. The commercial imperative is always there, but they werekept to a minimum.

You've shot the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Versailles,Cuba, and Chernobyl which project has affectedyou the most and why?

They all affect me in different ways. ChernobylI spent the least amount of time there. I spent barely a week, because I hatedbeing there. There's something for me, I'm not going to say for everyone but Eastern Europe depresses me. I don't likethe food, so I wasn't happy. Already I wasn't too much believing in God, butafter Chernobyl,I thought the world was hopeless, so that was tough to take. As for Katrina, Ispent almost four or five months in NewOrleans. The working conditions were tougher but itdidn't depress me as profoundly. 

What are you currently working on?

I want to do new things now. I know I can repeat myself, but sometimes youwant to try new things. I'm into cities. I'm shooting these slums in Mumbai,and favelas in Rio De Janeiro.I am drawn to cities that are made with no planning, places that are just madeby need.