Frank Horvat's retrospective display guide. Olga Sviblova tells about the new exhibition held at the Multimedia Art Museum

June 23

Frank Horvat was born in 1928 in the Italian town of Opatija, now belonging to Croatia. He started taking pictures as a high school student. The boy had to sell his collection of stamps to buy his first camera. Later, he studied fine arts in Milan, worked as a designer and travelled a lot.

Now the artist is 90, with more than 70 years devoted to photography. Frank Horvat has worked in almost all the world countries, with India, Pakistan, Mexico, the USA, the United Kingdom and Japan among them. He managed to create the best portraits of the British conveying their way of life, mindset, eccentricity and humour.

Франк Орват

He came in fashion shooting from reportage photography, and took all the tools it required: he shot models dressed in luxurious outfits as ordinary people, using 35-mm film, in natural light and without heavy makeup. The glossy world surrendered to him: Horvat worked with the world's renowned agencies and most high-profile fashion magazines. Since 1956, he has been living in Paris. However, during more than 50 years he has not made it to get a French passport, so he is still an Italian national.

Frank Horvat's 'House with Fifteen Keys' retrospective display is part of the programme of the 11th Moscow International Biennale Fashion and Style in Photography 2019. It was the artist himself who invented the exhibition's name.

"Some doubted my sincerity. Some insisted that my works have no style of their own, as if they were “made by fifteen different authors". So, I went through all my pictures (or rather, those survived ones) in search of a common denominator. But I found not 1, but 15 of them that have been manifesting (one way or another) throughout all these years. I called them keys."

Gregoire's Hands. Cotignac, France (2003)

This photograph was taken by Frank Horvat 16 years ago, when he was well over 70. At this age, Henri Cartier-Bresson quit shooting, it sometimes happens to photographers. But Horvat continues to work, and he is still brilliant at it. This picture shows nothing but the finest work with light, hands, pierced by the light, can be attributed to the works of the artists of the early or late Renaissance. It is interesting to watch the way skin shines through, the play of colours, with yellow colour intervened with black and white, the way fingers glow, and the hands position — all this refers to the history of world art. We see a brilliant work of the artist and realise that light in photography means no less than a smear or colour in painting.

Frank Horvat has always been a revolutionary and remains it up to this day. In the 1950s, as soon as the colour film appeared, he began to experiment with it. Horvat works with the colour separation and edits his photos on the computer.  Technology has always been assisting his artistic ideas.

Promotional shooting for a British magazine. Djerba, Tunisia (1965)

We see a swimsuit advertising. But do we see it in the photo? No, we don't. We only see an amazing swimmer in the water, but she does not swim, she stands, dressed in light. Frank Horvat put the girl in the grotto against the light so that the falling sunrays created a light abyss in front of her. And this abyss looks like water. Curves of girl's fingers, a clear contour  of skin on her hands, only a water surface is able to transform a body this way. And Horvat achieves this effect only by the right light direction.

"The light seems to me even more crucial, since it is fluid-like (like time itself). So, I'm much less interested in the light of the scorching sun at noon than in the light at dusk, or under tree leaves, or in the interior, where the glare and shadows are interchanging depending on my movements and things happening around," the photographer writes.

A little girl in Parc Monceau. Paris, France (1956)

Paris, 1956. Just a documental street photography. The picture of a little girl in the park is surprisingly dynamic, as the bench diagonal is directed in one side, and the little girl crawls to the other side. This is a photo of motion: expression of the girl's face showing interest and purpose invisible to the viewer, her posture, her will and energy, frame composition. The moment a child crawls on the bench seems rather trivial, but this moment was captured absolutely brilliant.

This girl in her cheap boots, pants and a dress is an image of poor post-war France. The country was undergoing long and difficult recovery from the aftermath of World War II. Frank Horvat shows life of the whole state in one photo, speaking for the fact that not all French people and not always wore haute couture clothes.

Michelle and Lorenzo. Near Paris, France (1959)

Children and France of the late 1950's again. These are Horvat's sons. The photographer caught the moment of a child's play and captured it. The moment is paradoxically dynamic: the ring above the children moves, one child screams, the other one looks surprised. The photo is static but still alive; it makes you imagine everything that was before the moment and what will come after.

'Stopped Time' is the name of the exhibition area with this picture displayed. Horvat writes in his explanation: "Any photo stops the time, for sure, but some photos do it better. So, the camera is able to stop any moment of time, but some moments are worth this stop more than the others."

Hat by Hubert de Givenchy Paris, France (1958)

"I don't take pictures of people looking directly at me because I think their focus on something else (or even their profile or back view) can tell a lot more about them. And the exceptions, as they say, prove the rule," says Frank Horvat.

The photographer devoted a whole series of his works to human eyes. This shot is a staged one. Frank Horvat is great at catching life, like in the picture of his sons and a flung up ring, he caught this staging as well. We see the spiral of a white collar enveloping a girl, the spiral of the bow on her hat, spiral composition made of hats, staged observers. Only a true artist is capable of creating a composition the way Horvat did it. He put another semicircle over the whole shot, placing all participants under the arch and breaking the rhythm.

White peacock in the photo studio. New York, USA (1983)

Frank had his own photo studio in New York. In 1983, they needed a peacock for some shooting. It is not an ordinary action, to bring the bird into the studio, swaddle it with everything found at hand, like some embroidered napkin and a white towel, wait until it calms down, and then show its wonderful, incredibly weird proportions.

We do not care about a peacock as a whole, it is its luxurious tail we only admire. But Frank Horvat  hid its tail  and showed its majestic head instead, no matter whether it was pleasant or not, but he showed it nevertheless. On a black leather couch in his New York photo studio.

Promotional shooting, a shoe and Eiffel Tower. Paris, France (1974)

Frank Horvat's iconic work. It was a very professional photo montage, as for several years Horvat had worked as a graphic designer in an Italian advertising agency.

When asked what Paris is, the answer comes immediately: it is Eiffel Tower. Women's legs, cult of women and beauty were the French style of life of those days.  The Horvat's picture comprises it all: a man under a beautiful heel, and the Tower located next to him.

Bed on the street. Calcutta, India (1962)

Picture of a homeless man lying on the sidewalk. It seems that a little to the side, right behind the man, we may see his imprint, the second part of his body, but it is only a wrapped edge of a blanket or clothing. The  body of a homeless person is undergoing a surreal transformation in the photo, you just cannot take your eyes of it. It is a street shot, accidentally snatched from someone else's life, but it is very elaborate and completely different from staging with photo montage.

Alain Bernardin and a stripper. Paris, France (1962)

The picture shows the owner of the legendary Parisian cabaret Alain Bernardin manifesting strength, power and money. One of the dancers stands next to him, we cannot see her face, as the model's face has a wig on, to provide a photo with some kind of a mystery. It is a photo from the 'Out of Phase' series, where Horvat shows that not everything and not always has a reason and a logical explanation. "Perhaps that out-of-phase situation prompted me to shoot it," says the photographer. It is extremely difficult to distinguish Frank Horvat's staging from his instant response ability, which makes his pictures so attractive.

Chocolate sweet wrapper. Zagreb, Croatia (2006)

The best contemporary art sculpture. Chocolate sweet wrapper shot by Horvat in his own house in Croatia. He came home, saw a wrapper thrown on a table, set fire to it and took a picture. Without any deliberation. He was able to see that brilliant composition. Horvat sees it as a stunning sculptural form, he sees its shadow and its incredibly rich colours. He sees a miracle, magic in a simple sweet wrapper.

Frank Horvat is always on the go. He had ventured both in photojournalism, and documentary, artistic, fashion and street photography, but did not choose any genre to engage in. Today the photographer is absolutely free, as before, for which he has often been reproached. They told him: "Look, you're famous, everyone wants you, you don't have to change!" But this amazing property of freedom, the ability to think, create and feel, that is the thing that moves deeply in Frank Horvat's works.

Frank Horvat's exhibition at the Multimedia Art Museum will run until 21 July.


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