Despite living in Modena next to Enzo Ferrari, one of the greatest Italian photographers, Franco Fontana, never had the chance to shoot one of his cars. Then one day a casual ‘meeting’ sparked one of the most iconic pictures of a Ferrari Testarossa
Riccione, 1985. An American magazine calls Franco Fontana and commissions a photo feature on the Ferrari Testarossa. Franco Fontana, now eighty five, is one of Italy’s most famous photographers. He was born in the Emilia-Romagna region, and is generally considered a citizen of the world, in spite of never mastering English. He takes up the story: “I wasn’t really a car enthusiast, but for those of us who lived in Modena the Testarossa had always been something of an icon. And so I called Ferrari’s director of marketing and he provided me with a car and a test driver.
Together we sped off towards the seaside resort of Riccione. I spent the whole day there snapping the Testarossa in front of the beach huts, but I wasn’t satisfied with the results. Towards sunset, when we were about to start driving back to Modena, I noticed a boat yard by the sea. We parked the car on the beach. This was at low tide and you could see the Testarossa’s reflection in the water. But Istill wasn’t happy. And it just so happened that at that precise moment a group of youngsters with a dog passed by.
The dog was a Dalmatian. Not a dachshund or a wolf hound, but a Dalmatian, with a black and white coat, the same colour as the rocks in the background. ‘That’s it’, I thought. And so it was. Over the years, I’ve heard every possible comment about that dog, including that it was made of porcelain. When I tell the story of the evolution of this image during my photography workshops, I show photos of the dog in every position: from the front, the back, from above, below… This is just to say that, beyond the simple anecdote, a coincidence only becomes a fact once it has been understood”.
When Fontana got back to Modena, he gave the prints to the director of marketing at Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari fell in love with the image and even asked for a lithographic print. Fontana signed 50 copies and in this way that day in Riccione was transformed into one of the most iconic images of the Testarossa. Did Fontana ever meet Drake? “Yes, in Modena everyone knew each other”, Fontana says. “I remember the big dinner events organised by the municipality. He always turned up on time, chatted with everyone, drank only water and then at 10.30 he would politely make his excuses and leave. Once he even came to my furniture store. That’s because until 1971 I ran a design showroom, the first in Modena. He was looking for a sofa for his office. He had a look round, but, when it came to choosing one, he sent his secretary”.
Spending an afternoon in the company of Franco Fontana is a bit like a session with an analyst. Not Freudian but Zen, one who tells stories and looks at you from the other end of a large table in a room filled with books, paintings, ceramics and crystals from all over the world. On the table there’s his autobiography, which starts in Modena and ends in Modena, after frenetic trips to all of the world’s continents. There is his first portfolio, published in 1964 by Popular Photography. The fashion shoots for Vogue America. The advertising campaigns for major brands, from transport to leisure. The list of the 400-odd exhibitions that have paid homage to an absolute master of colour, from the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris to the latest personal show, Franco Fontana Sintesi (Franco Fontana in Synthesis), at the Fondazione Modena Arti Visive (the Modena Foundation for Visual Arts). This is the same Franco Fontana who can transform a building site in Frankfurt into a painting by Paul Klee, a Florida beach into an archetypal place, turns a detail from a piece of architecture in New York into an abstract fragment... His secret?
“You have to photograph what you think, not what you see. You take a snap with your mind, not with your fingers. No matter how perfect a landscape might be, the photograph will remain silent until the photographer uses his own gut instinct. Artistic photography isn’t a postcard. Artists are only artists if they create a world".