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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Extraordinary Photography and Cinematography of Arturo Zavattini

Marcello Mastroianni, La Dolce Vita
Watching an old movie today, Love in the City, I rediscovered the work of Arturo Zavattini.

Born in 1930, Zavattini is known for his work as a photographer, cinematographer and director of photography. His father, Cesare Zavattini was one of Federico Fellini's longtime collaborators, so Arturo practically grew up on film sets. He worked as an assistant and camera operator on famous Italian films such as Il Bidone, La Dolce Vita and Divorce Italian Style. He also worked as an ethnographic photographer, accompanying anthropologist Ernesto de Martino on his infamous expedition to Lucania in 1952, which would later inspire Luigi Di Gianni's debut documentary, Magia Lucana.

Being a teenager in Rome during the post-war years, Zavattini was very influenced by the neorealism film movement and that influence was always apparent during the multi-decade span of his career. His images taken in Rome, Naples and other Italian cities and districts documented social life on the streets, in particular the dire conditions in which the children were forced to live.

Although noted for documenting the socioeconomic struggles of his own country, Zavattini left Italy to explore other faraway places. In 1956, he traveled to Bangkok, Phetchaburi and northern Thailand where he made a journalistic report on the shooting of the film The Sea Wall by French director, René Clément, based on the novel of the same name by Marguerite Duras. He captured rare images of life in Thailand during that era.

Thailandia, Bangkok
In 1960, he traveled to Cuba where he had an accidental encounter with Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The meeting came immediately after the revolution, while working as a camera operator on director Tomás Gutierréz Alea's Historias de la revolución (Stories of the Revolution). Gutiérrez studied cinema at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome in the early 1950s. Like Zavattini, he was also influenced by Italian Neorealism and created his first films in Rome. Perhaps the two knew each other from those early days. Click below to watch the film on YouTube.

In recent years, Zavattini has organized and archived his lifetime of images, many of which were on exhibit in 2016 at the Museo Nazionale Arti & Tradizioni Popolari in Rome. Scroll down to see a few of his most recognizable images. Click here to see more photos of the set of Tomás Gutierréz Alea's film with Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Federico Fellini with Actress Nico (née Christa Päffgen) on the set of La Dolce Vita, 1960

Ernesto "Che" Guevara on the set of Historias de la revolución, 1960

Assistant cameraman Ennio Guarnieri, Nico and Federico Fellini on the set of La Dolce Vita, 1960 

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