|Born||1951 (age 65–66)
|Awards||Liliane Bettencourt Prix de la Photographie (2008), Deutscher Fotobuchpreis (2006), Alfred Eisenstadt Award for Magazine Photography (1999, 2000), World Press Award for Art (1998)|
Robert Polidori (1951) is a Canadian-American photographer known for large-scale, color images of architecture and urban environments. Recognized for his documentation of disrupted human habitats, Polidori was awarded the 2006 Deutscher Fotobuchpreis for his book on New Orleans After the Flood and the 2008 Liliane Bettencourt Prix de la Photographie for his book on Château de Versailles reconstruction Parcours Muséologique Revisité. He was awarded the 1998 World Press Photo Award for Art and the 1999 and 2000 Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography (Architecture). His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Martin-Gropius-Bau museum (Berlin), and Instituto Moreira Salles (São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro). His photographs are also included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York), New Orleans Museum of Art, J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles), Victoria & Albert Museum (London), Château de Versailles, Centre Pompidou (Paris), and Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris).
Polidori is described by Stephen Wallis in The Wall Street Journal as one of "most esteemed practitioners of large-scale photography" who brings "a sharp aesthetic eye to documentary images that thoughtfully address issues of historical, socioeconomic and ecological consequence." His subjects include the architectural beauty of Château de Versailles or Havana, urban sprawl in Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, or Amman, as well as images documenting natural or man-made disasters from post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans to Chernobyl or war-torn Beirut. At the time of the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal retrospective exhibition in 2009, curator Paulette Gagnon described his work as a "photographic account that invites us to share the historical moments it portrays, making them part of the collective memory."
Life and career
Born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1951, Polidori moved to the United States at age 10 and, as a youth, lived in Seattle, New Orleans, and Yellow Springs, Ohio. Inspired by Michael Snow's avant-garde Wavelength (1967 film), in 1969 he moved to New York City to study film making. There he was hired by the legendary Jonas Mekas as his assistant at the Anthology Film Archives. During this time, Polidori completed four experimental films, exhibited in 1975 at the Whitney Museum of Art, and, in 1980, graduated with a Masters of Arts in film from State University of New York (Buffalo). First introduced to still photography within the film-making process, in 1982 he purchased a large-format camera and, interested in rooms as "metaphors for human frailty", photographed abandoned and apartments on New York's Lower East Side. In 1983 he moved to Paris and, inspired by Frances Yates' The Art of Memory and how photography serves memory, Polidori began to document the restoration of Château de Versailles. Increasing known for his architectural photographs, Polidori accompanied architectural writer Paul Goldberger to Cuba to photograph Havana’s architectural heritage for the The New Yorker magazine. In 1998 he joined The New Yorker as a staff photographer and images from the Cuban series were later published in the book Havana (2002). Increasingly interested in inhabitant- or "auto-constructed" urban growth, Polidori photographed Brasilia, Dubai, and Mumbai. In May 2001, he photographed the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant and nearby ghost town of Pripyat, Ukraine, and these images were later published as Zones of Exclusion – Pripyat and Chernobyl (2004).
In 2002 Polidori was described by Martin C. Pedersen, editor of Metropolis (architecture magazine) as "a keen observer of the built world". Commissioned to photograph Detroit's Michigan Central Station, the magazine later published his urban images as Robert Polidori's Metropolis (2005). As staff photographer for The New Yorker in 2005 Polidori photographed damaged homes and buildings in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as well as the city's restoration in 2006. Published as After the Flood (2006), an exhibition of these images at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), became the "most attended photography show in the history of the Met". Exhibitions of After the Flood were also mounted in London, Venice, and Toronto, as well as in New Orleans. During this time, Polidori continued to document the restoration of Château de Versailles, and these photographs, published in the three-volume Parcour Muséologique Revisité (2009), were included in his retrospective exhibition at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal. In 2010 he photographed the damaged rooms of Beirut's famous Hotel Petra, abandoned during Lebanon’s civil war. The following year, Polidori traveled to Paris where he photographed the stored art collection of Yves Saint Laurent (designer) prior to auction at the Grand Palais. He also photographed the fashion label Bottega Veneta's fall 2011 campaign at the Palazzo Papadopoli in Venice. In 2012 Polidori exhibited with his mentor Jonas Mekas at Edwynn Houk Gallery (New York). His 2016 solo exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery (New York) included composite murals of Mumbai published in Sixty Feet Road.
Throughout his career, Polidori worked as a magazine photographer for Condé Nast Traveler, Newsweek, Vanity Fair (magazine), Wallpaper, and, from 1998 to 2006, was staff photographer for The New Yorker. In 2010 he obtained American citizenship and, in 2016, lived in California.
Equipment and Approach
Polidori's images taken, with a medium- or large-format camera on five-by-seven, eight-by-ten, or eleven-by-fourteen sheet negatives, are described as "almost forensic" in detail. Shot in natural light with up to 4-minute exposures, his work includes meticulously framed images or composite murals of tracking shots. The 40-foot-long image of the Mumbai suburb of Dharavi, Sixty Feet Road, was composed from 22 eight-by-ten plates, scanned and “digitally stitched together” in Photoshop. The aerial photographs of Versailles, were taken with a custom-designed Kipp Wettstein camera. Images of distressed or decaying walls in the Hotel Petra series are "painterly surfaces" which resemble "trompe l’oeil" art.
Polidori describes his photographic approach as inquisitive: "When you point a camera at something, it is like asking a question. But the picture that emerges is like an answer." He also noted the paradox of photographic labor, "to deliver up to some surface an epitome of something that occurred as an instant in the continuum of time, and to somehow how have it represent all of time." Interested in creating commemorative images which serve memory or history, some series like "Havana" include portraiture, while others like the Chernobyl Zones of Exclusion or New Orleans After the Flood, although representative of their inhabitants, are devoid of people. Following the 2006 "After the Flood" exhibition, this approach was debated within blogs and criticized for contextural loss when a "Katrinia" image was used in a Brazilian non-profit, anti-smoking campaign. At the time of his 2016 New York exhibition, Polidori commented: "Personally I am more attracted to photographs that attempt to be more objective and 'emblematic' of a subject’s qualities rather than a personal subjective interpretation of phenomena."
Recognition and Contribution
Recognized internationally, Polidari is the recipient of the 2008 Liliane Bettencourt Prix de la Photographie, the 2006 Deutscher Fotobuchpreis, the 1999 & 2000 Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography, and the 1998 World Press Award. The subject of the German publication Fotografic Portfolio #41, art director Tom Jacobi described Polidori as "a master of spatial aesthetics, while writer Von Jochen Siemens called him a "cultural detective for places with a story to tell". In a Domus Italiano review, Beatrice Zamponi wrote, he "trains his lens on the ruins of recent times, on dilapidated surroundings infused with profound aestheticism, turning them into a subtle instrument of social investigation." At the time of Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal retrospective, curator Paulette Gagnon commented on the beauty of Polidori's photographs, "the subtle colours and perfect harmony of line and material seem to endow the image with some of the power and appeal of paintings," as well as their power: "Concerned above all with the human condition, he explains situations – often crisis or disaster – that brings us back to life's essentials and shatter our complacency." In a review of the 2006 Metropolitan Museum's exhibition After the Flood, John Updike wrote, "it is the wrecked, mildewed interiors that take our eye and quicken our anxiety." At that time New York Times journalist Michael Kimmelman noted that Polidori's images "also express an archaeologist’s aspiration to document plain-spoken truth, and they are without most of the tricks of the trade that photographers exploit to turn victims into objects and pictures of pain into tributes to themselves." In the 2016 review in The Wall Street Journal, Stephen Wallis described the Hotel Petra series as "meditations on the concepts of transience and decay, the cracked and peeling walls revealing layers of history." He concluded: "Polidori has never been purely a documentarian. His interest has always lain in making 'psychological portraits' of architectural spaces, which he sees as vessels for memories and as projections of the people who have lived there."
Exhibitions and Collections
Polidori's work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Martin-Gropius-Bau museum (Berlin) and the Instituto Moreira Salles (São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro). His work has also been shown in private galleries around world including the Edwynn Houk Gallery (Zurich and New York), Paul Kasmin Gallery (New York), Mary Boone Gallery (New York), Fontana Gallery (Amsterdam), Galerie Karsten Greve (Paris), Flowers Gallery (London), Nicholas Metivier Gallery (Toronto), Galerie de Bellefeuille (Montreal) and Galleria Carla Sozzani (Milan and Seoul).
His work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Museum of Modern Art (New York), New Orleans Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts (Houston), J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Victoria & Albert Museum (London), Château de Versailles, Centre Pompidou (Paris), Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Paris), Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris), Martin-Gropius-Bau museum (Berlin), and Instituto Moreira Salles (São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro). His photographs are also included in the collections of Princeton University, Yale University (New Haven), and New York University (New York).
- 1998 World Press Award for Art
- 1999 & 2000 Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography, Architecture
- 2006 Deutscher Fotobuchpreis for After the Flood
- 2008 Liliane Bettencourt Prix de la Photographie for Parcours Muséologique Revisité
- Hotel Petra. Steidl, 2016.
- 60 Feet Road. Steidl, 2016.
- RIO. Steidl, 2015.
- Chronophagia: Selected Works 1984-2009. Steidl, 2014.
- Eye & I. Steidl, 2014.
- Points Between... Up Till Now. Steidl, 2014.
- Parcour Muséologique Revisité (3 Volumes). Steidl, 2009.
- Robert Polidori: Fotografias. Instituto Moreira Salles, 2009.
- After the Flood. Steidl, 2006.
- Robert Polidori’s Metropolis. Steidl, 2005.
- Zones of Exclusion – Pripyat and Chernobyl. Steidl, 2004.
- Havana. Steidl, 2002.
- Gatier, Pierre-Louis, et al. The Levant: History and Archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean. Könemann, 2001.
- Eberle, Todd, and Joaquim Paiva. Brasilia de 0 a 40 anos. 2000.
- di Vita-Evrard, Ginette. Libya: The Lost Cities of the Roman Empire. Könemann, 1999.
- Pérouse de Montclos, Jean-Marie. Chateaux of the Loire Valley. Könemann, 1997.
- Sites Greco-Romaines de la Tripolitaine et Cyrénaïque. 1997.
- Pérouse de Montclos, Jean-Marie. Versailles. Artabras, 1994.
- "Gallery Artists: Robert Polidori." Edwynn Houk Gallery. Web.
- "Robert Polidori CV." RobertPolidori.com. Web.
- Wallis, Stephen. "Edward Burtynsky and Robert Polidori’s Shared Visions." Wall Street Journal: WSJ. Magazine, 12 Sep. 2016. Web.
- Zamponi, Beatrice. "Robert Polidori." Domas Italiano, 18 Nov. 2016. Web.
- Gagnon, Paulette. "Sounding Reality." Translated by Judith Terry. Robert Polidori. Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal/Steidl, 2009. pp. 1-7. Print.
- Siemens, Von Jochen. "When buildings start to tell a story.Fotografic Portfolio #41, 2010, pp. 4-8. Print.
- Gerber Klein, Michèle. "Artists in Conversation: Robert Polidori." Bomb Magazine, 99, Spring 2007. Web.
- Pedersen, Martin C. "Robert Polidori on Making Pictures, DIY Cities, and the Pull of India." CommonEdge, 15 Sep. 2016. Web.
- Polidori, Robert. Havana. Steidl, 2002. Print.
- Polidori, Robert. Zones of Exclusion – Pripyat and Chernobyl. Steidl, 2004. Print.
- Pedersen, Martin C. "Robert Polidari's Metropolis." Robert Polidari's Metropolis, 2004, p5. Print.
- "An interview with Robert Polidori." The Ground, #02, 2 Nov. 2012. Web.
- "The Collaborations: Robert Polidori." Bottega Veneta. Web.
- "Jonas Mekas / Robert Polidori: Portraits." Edwynn Houk Gallery. 2012. Web.
- Bennes, Crystal. "Robert Polidori's photographs of the Palace of Versailles." The Architect's Journal, 11 Dec. 2008. Web.
- "Polidori and people pictures." Alec Soth's Archived Blog, 7 Jan. 2007. Web.
- MacCash, Doug. "Robert Polidori defends his post-K decisions." NOLA, 20 Jul. 2007. Web.
- Jacobi, Tom. "Introduction." Fotografic Portfolio #41, 2010, p. 1. Print.
- Updike, John. "After Katrina." The New York Review of Books, 30 Nov. 2006. Web.
- Kimmelman, Michael. "What’s Wrong With This Picture?" The New York Times, 22 Sep. 2006. Web.
- The Metropolitan Museum: New Orleans after the Flood: Photographs by Robert Polidori. 2006.
- The New Yorker: "Photos from the Archive: Robert Polidori’s Havana." 2014.
- The Ground: "An interview with Robert Polidori." 2012.
- The Bomb: "Robert Polidori by Michèle Gerber Klein." 2007.
- Artsy: "Robert Polidori".
- Robert Polidori Website