Interview by Tim Small
Photos By Edward Scheller
Archival Images Courtesy of Ando Gilardi and Patrizia Piccini
We recently drove up through Piedmont, a couple dozen miles or so beyond Genoa, and into the sleepy northern Italian hamlet of Ponzone to meet Ando Gilardi, an 89-year-old Italian photographer, author, journalist, editor, and the perviest old perv on the peninsula—a man, we’re embarrassed to admit, we hadn’t known existed a few short weeks before. It was then, on a glorious day in Milan, that we had found two of his magazines, Fhototeca Materiali and Phototeca, in a secondhand bookshop. They were unlike anything we’d ever seen.
His magazines featured strong, principally erotic images, grouped by precise but obscure iconographic motifs. Their garish layouts would go from a two-page collage of dozens of blowjobs to a juxtaposition of Victorian-era erotic cartoons and 1980s porn-VHS covers, with poems and bits of esoteric texts strewn (seemingly) at random throughout. As an editor, this guy was unmatched in his talent for titling and assigning themes to issues: “Racist Dickheads and Sons of Bitches, There’s a Pogrom Tonight and I’ve Nothing to Wear,” “The Artificial Whore,” “Assocracy,” and “Catastrophes, Damn Bad Luck, and Final Solutions” are a few. We soon discovered that these wonderful works were only a sampling from an oeuvre of half a dozen publications that Ando has guided during his career. We were instantly hooked.
But it turns out that Ando’s impeccable taste for searing pornographic images is far from the only reason to speak with him. He also cocurated the photographic documentation of the Holocaust that was later used as evidence at the Nuremberg Trials, authored a dozen books on photography and various other subjects, created one of the world’s largest erotic-image archives, and shared editorial responsibilities with Pier Paolo Pasolini at the Italian Communist Party’s weekly trade-union magazine, Vie Nuove, from 1960 to 1962.
We were warmly welcomed into Ando’s home by his wife, Luciana, and his longtime assistant and collaborator, Patrizia Piccini. We sat down in their red, green, and orange living-room-cum-studio and leisurely spoke for a few hours about everything from photography to why Ando thinks that women hate sex.
Vice: I couldn’t find much information about your incredible magazines. There are so many, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be Fhototeca Materiali. So tell me, who had the balls to publish such a periodical?
Ando Gilardi: The publisher was a producer and distributor of porn videotapes. That seems about right. How did your collaboration with him begin?
We had founded a magazine a few years before Fhototeca Materiali named Phototeca. It was a very big magazine, and each issue was structured around a very specific theme. We’d find lots of images that were related to the theme—both old and new, but mostly very old—and we’d put them all together in one magazine. Phototeca was funded by a publisher who had a bit of money. He invested in it primarily out of vanity. My ruin, and my fortune, was that this publisher managed to convince me I was a good writer. I wish I’d never written! I’d already been kicked out of the Communist Party and off the staff of L’Unità, the Communist daily paper, because people had managed to convince me I could write well. In the end, this publisher shut it down. He said, “Oooh, Gilardi, we have to get rid of that guy. And he’s also a Jew, think of that!” So he sold the magazine to another publisher, who changed the name. That’s when it became Fhototeca, with an “F”?
Patrizia Piccini: Yes. The publisher Ando is talking about—the one who sold off Phototeca—was also the publisher of Photo Italia. And this new publisher took away the “P” and replaced it with an “F.” Ando: And then, after awhile, that was also shut down. Patrizia: He didn’t want to distribute it very much. All he cared for was printing it. He started cutting all our costs, getting rid of the editors and the art director, and in the end it was just Ando and me. Ando: But we liked doing it so much we didn’t care. And then, at the very end, we founded yet another magazine, the one you first mentioned—Fhototeca Materiali. It was more of the same, but specifically centered on old images, and primarily erotic ones. Click the covers to enlarge
Clockwise from top left: “Lift the Leaf,” Fhototeca N° 40, May/June 1988; “Differents, Gaydrunks, and Embarrassing Couples,” Phototeca N° 6, Spring 1982; “The Artificial Whore,” Fhototeca N° 41, July/April 1989; spread from “Innocent Games and Sinful Flirts,” Phototeca N° 16, Winter 1984; “Assocracy 2,” Fhototeca N° 39, March/April 1989
OK, let me get this straight: Before Phototeca, Fhototeca, and Fhototeca Materiali, you worked on a magazine called Photo 13, and after those initial four you founded Fhototeca Index and Index: Storia Infame della Fotografia Pornografica?
Patrizia: Yes, that’s the evolution. Ando founded them all. As it went on, they became more and more centered on erotic photography. One thing that was ubiquitous across all the magazines was a cover tagline that read “For cultured adults only.”
Patrizia: Yes. You see, the censors made us write “For adults only” on the cover as a disclaimer, but we didn’t like it. It’s a bit debasing. So we added our touch to it. Are all the images yours?
Ando: We have a couple dozen closets filled with negatives and slides. Patrizia: We went around and looked through collections, and we reproduced what we liked. They aren’t originals. Ando: Patrizia! You will die without having learned anything. You should say, “Yes, we have all original images.” Patrizia: Actually, it’s partly true. We do have a lot of originals in our archive in Milan. What moved you to create these magazines with so little text, pieced together with erotic images?
Ando: It’s a good question, but also a very stupid one. Our magazine was normal. It’s the other magazines that were pieces of shit. Fair enough. But how were you first attracted to photography in general?
That’s an old story. After the war—I had been active in the resistance—I started getting some food stamps for an American mess hall through a Jewish captain of their armed forces in exchange for my services. They were looking for photographers who could reproduce images of the Shoah, of the Holocaust, and who could print them. This was for the Nuremberg Trials. In any case, there was money to be made. I began to print photographs that we would find on prisoners, images that had been hidden by Jews, whatever. That’s when I realized that words are used to hide things and photographs are used to show them. It’s also when I decided I wanted to work with photography. Click to enlarge
Spread from “Catastrophes, Damn Bad Luck, and Final Solutions,” Phototeca N° 5, Winter 1981. The text reads, “Shadows, rats, fangs, asses, mummies, monsters, and cocks: Omens Symptoms of Degrade Preludes of Destruction Signs of the End. Or not?”
You mentioned your stint at the daily Communist newspaper L’Unità, which was founded by the great political theorist and philosopher Antonio Gramsci. What was that like?
I worked there for a long, long time, but it ended badly. I was kicked out of L’Unità because, again, they didn’t like that I could write so well. But they didn’t kick me out of the party. I had many friends there. They used to have these sort of internal trials in those years, not civil trials, but trials within the party. They would try you for political and cultural reasons. They thought they couldn’t trust me—not because I was dishonest—but because I was smart and cultured and I had read a lot of books. The reasoning wasn’t that I had done something wrong, but that I might do something in the future. In that period, to punish a comrade, they would send him to the trade union. The trade union was considered a sort of banishment. But I never left the party. The party left me! I was there until the very end, until the old party died. What happened to you in the trade unions?
Very unfortunately, they realized that I could write and that I was part of an inferior race. So they sent me to Lavoro, which was a daily paper that the bosses had decided to transform into a weekly magazine of the trade union. I worked with Gianni Toti, the great poet, and a woman named Lietta Tornabuoni, who eventually became a very famous journalist. She also had been punished and sent away from NoiDonne, the historical Italian feminist magazine, because—and I know that by saying this I am making her a compliment she’ll appreciate—she was a great fucker and she loved to fuck. She fucked all the men she could see in a range of ten miles. All the other feminists hated her, of course. So we made this weekly magazine. But very soon I realized a magazine like that could not work. Why?
First, a magazine can’t work without adverts. But big companies would never put their adverts in a trade-union magazine. They would be funding the same people who organized strikes in their factories. Of course. And the second reason?
Because there are no bigger assholes than left-wing intellectuals. I mean this in terms of the ability to reason logically—and I’m especially talking about the postwar left. Think about it: You work in a factory or in the fields and make a shit wage and break your back every day. You wake up every morning and you take it in the ass. And while you’re working, you feel—you know—that you are taking it up the ass for a few cents. Then, after a whole day of being fucked up your ass, you go home and what? You read a paper that outlines precisely all the ways in which you have been fucked up the ass! A paper that says, “You thought you were taking it up the ass? No, you ignorant, illiterate laborer, let me open your eyes! Read here, I’ll tell you precisely all the other ways you have been taking it up the ass. Ways that you didn’t even know about. You thought you were taking it up to your guts, but no, comrade, you are taking it up to the back of your throat!” These papers were, in theory, distributed internally. This means that the same laborers who were reading about being fucked up the ass should—in their free time—pick up a bunch of these magazines, hide them in their clothes, and—risking a fine, or even their job—go and inform their fellow laborers and comrades about their repeated classwide ass-raping. That’s kind of like making death-row inmates put together a magazine about the intricacies of the electric chair and lethal injection. Still, I take it you had a good time doing it?
I loved it! I was the first photographer to publish a color photograph of Sophia Loren. She was so lovely. I ran her picture on the cover of Lavoro, for a Labor Day issue.
Spread from “Common People,” Phototeca N° 10, Spring 1983
And then Lavoro shut down. So you went off to work for the now-legendary magazine of the Communist Party, Vie Nuove. Copies of that sell for more than a hundred bucks on eBay.
Yes. In Vie Nuove I only wrote editorials about photography. The only other editorials in there were written by Pier Paolo Pasolini. And Pasolini, you know, was Pasolini. I never loved him as much as everyone else seemed to, but he was Pasolini. A huge name! Do you want to hear a good Pasolini story? Absolutely.
At the time there was no internet, obviously, so we had a kid in the office of Vie Nuove who used to go to Pasolini’s house to pick up the copy of his editorials. One day, this kid came back from Pasolini’s house flustered and pissed off. He started saying, “That faggot! He touched my ass! He wanted me to give him a blowjob!” You know what they did? Instead of kicking out this little shit, this nobody who should only have been honored to suck Pasolini’s cock, what did they do? They kicked Pasolini out of the paper and, eventually, out of the whole party. I tell you, the left was very, very stupid. And while you did all this, you were working on building up your image archive?
Yes. I always kept up with my passion for historical photographic documents. I rummaged through collections and museums all my life. I found things I liked and I reproduced them all, like I did for the Nuremberg Trials. I perfected some techniques of immediate reproduction, without being noticed. And all this in a time when there were no flashes. I invented these machines—like suitcases—that hid all the materials and equipment I needed. And I carried one of those suitcases everywhere. There must have been at least one instance where you had to actually pay money for a photo you couldn’t reproduce for one reason or another.
What? You sound like that kid at Vie Nuove. You ass! You think Ando Gilardi would ever buy a picture? You must be crazy. In the worst-case scenario I would ask the director of the museum if he wanted a copy of the image. But only if he reimbursed me the development and film costs. I never bought anything. I just lugged all my stuff around and did what I did and reproduced what I could without being noticed. I think I’m starting to understand why us Jews always end up winning after all. OK, OK, I get it. It is a very admirable talent. But that shit must have weighed a ton. How did you do it day after day?
I can’t reveal all my secrets, but I’m very proud of it. Keep in mind that I suffered from polio as a child, and since then one of my legs has been paralyzed. This left me with extreme vanity and pride. I was a partisan, and I only had one leg. You might think it must take a certain skill and a certain courage to fight as a partisan with only one leg. But no, war is easy. The really hard part is taking a shit. Partisans shit in the woods. And to shit in the woods you have to squat. Now, try to imagine squatting over with only one leg to prop you up! Even there I had to have ideas, I had to invent. Well, how did you squat to take a dump?
One of the first weapons I had was a British Sterling. I adapted it into a peg leg. I would use it when I had to take a shit in the woods. That was a truly great invention
“Whips, Redcheeks, and Painful Orgasms,” Phototeca N° 9, Winter 1982; “Thieves, Whores, and No-gooders,” Phototeca N° 1, November 1979
Let’s get back to your archive. You’ve reproduced tens of thousands of photographs that don’t belong to you. I take it you don’t believe in the concept of copyright?
I don’t recognize property rights to an image. I have a profound moral stance on this. I think images belong to those who see them. Viewing an image means owning that image, remembering that image. Let me put it this way: You make a painting and then you exhibit it. I come to your show with my camera and take pictures of your painting. I am committing a crime only in the moment that I print that photograph, sell it, and keep the money. But if I want to hang it in my house, if I want to look at it, play with it, paint a mustache on it, like Duchamp—that’s my business. I think it’s time we get to the erotic stuff. After all, it’s the main reason I wanted to talk to you. I’ve never seen erotic magazines like the ones you made.
I think I must be one of the greatest pornography experts in the world. That reminds me of the disclaimer you ran in Fhototeca: “An obscene photograph is never a wasted photograph.”
Yes, I wrote that. It’s true! Well, it made me think about how you’ve always been interested in images from a functional standpoint—be they historical documentations or police portraits or porn—and not so much in images that are beautiful for beauty’s sake. Erotic images clearly have a function. Besides the obvious reason that looking at naked people is a wonderful way to pass the time, why else were you attracted to them?
I wrote a book called Infamous History of Pornographic Photography because I consider the pornographic image, not necessarily the photography—photos are just the latest means to express that image—to be of fundamental significance. Just think of the caves in the Pyrenees; one of the most common images in those caves painted by Paleolithic Homo sapiens is the image of the vagina. The vagina was one of the first things to become a pure symbol: a simple V. Or a V with a line running across the middle of it. It’s extremely interesting to see how that image has evolved over 50,000 years. The most recent development in that regard is the shaved pussy. It only recently became a common practice. Pubic hair only had a reason to exist when women walked on four legs, like monkeys, and the hair became a form of protection. Once humans stood up, it stopped being useful. I think pubic shaving is extremely interesting, because only now has the image of the perfectly clear vagina returned in iconography. I love those amateur porn photographers who try to capture both the vagina and the face of the woman, keeping both in focus. I would like to write a book about the history of digital pornographic photography. Are you a fan of YouPorn and those types of video sites?
I like xnxx.com most of all. I like to go to their tags page and see what tags become more and less popular. It’s a mass phenomenon that one would have to be very stupid to not take seriously. Do you think these sites have rendered your type of work obsolete?
Not at all. I think they have clearly brought to light the principal desire of humans: voyeurism. If you go deep inside humans, you’ll find that we don’t like to fuck as much as we like to look at other people fucking. What brings you to that conclusion?
Well, fucking is smelly and tiring and ridiculous and fake. It’s quite ugly, really. And once you’re actually doing it, you can’t wait to finish so you can go take a piss. This is especially true for women. Women hate to fuck. Don’t tell me you’ve never noticed. You see, millions of years ago, there were two species of monkeys. In one of these species all the men were wiped out and only the females survived. In the other, the opposite happened. So what happened? The females of one species started reproducing with the males of another. Women hate to fuck with men who don’t belong to their same species. Come on now, there must be at least a couple of them who like it.
No, I don’t think so. All women hate to fuck. Take it from me.
Spread from “Whips, Redcheeks, and Painful Orgasms,” Phototeca N° 9, Winter 1982