claude nori's sexy, summery, sun-drenched photos

The artist’s sun-drenched images of the Mediterranean will make your vacation envy kick in immediately.

by Sarah Moroz
Jul 22 2015, 6:19pm

The images by French photographer Claude Nori epitomize the laid-back insouciance of summer, with nostalgia and wistfulness built in. His gaze rests on youth and desire in sunny settings (Stromboli, Rimini, coastal towns in France) principally snapped during the 1970s and 1980s. Whether playing ping-pong in the sand, avidly eating an ice cream, or stealing away for an affectionate moment, these carefree teens—all tawny thighs and bare shoulders—incarnate warm-weather leisure at its most appealing. Nori's small retrospective exhibition, 'The Adventure of a Photographer' (on view at Polka Galérie in Paris until August 1st) is named after an Italo Calvino story, in which the protagonist, Antonino, is a camera obsessive. Nori, who today lives in Biarritz, spoke about infusing a sense of the cinematic into static moments, and the meaning of photographic flirting.

You use both black-and-white and color; how do you decide between the two options?
My favorite means of expression is black-and-white. I work more often with that, because it's more poetic: it more closely resembles Italian Neorealism from the '60s and '70s, which I adore. Color was when I wanted to frame things differently. In the 70s, I did slides using Kodachrome. Today there's this return towards that vintage practice.

You have this show at Polka, but you've laid out your images in book form for your own publishing company, Editions Contrejour. How do you think about your work differently based on the context in which you present it?
I best express myself through the books—it's a privileged space. In 1975, I couldn't find an editor to publish my book as I'd imagined it; I'd done a mock-up. Now I work at my own rhythm, doing double page spreads, with autobiographical texts or references to other photographers. The role is a bit like that of a cineaste. It corresponds to my cinematic cravings.

Your exhibition title is based on the Calvino story, The Adventure of a Photographer. The character in said story, Antonino, is obsessive—do you think that's an essential part of being a photographer?
Yes, yes. For a photographer of my generation, in the 70s, we wanted to create a rupture with the photography from before, which was mostly professional, purely by reporters. A few of us said, we want to express ourselves through photography, we want to live via photography. It was a way to travel, to meet people, to communicate on our own lives. Photography is a way to think about the world.

You focus on youth, and on female subjects mostly. There's a reference, in the gallery's introduction, to "photographic flirting"—what does this mean, exactly?
A few years ago I did a book called La Géométrie du Flirt. It was framed within the world of photography, in terms of aesthetic and formal choices, etc. I broadcast this a bit, going towards people for a sentimental adventure. I would go walking and would do this kind of dance—to approach, to seduce. I made this extra step, unlike the older generation of humanist photographers, who would take a photo and move right on. So it was this "photographic flirtation"— that's a part of my work, which I don't shy away from.

So it's more about how you broach your subject than a sense of straightforward flirtation?
It's about the approach, it's about the aesthetic—framing the moment like it's in a film. You can feel that something happened, like in a movie. You can't fake that, you can't make believe—they're real life moments, they're these little scenarios. The images are from the 70s and 80s—I was young then, it was easier. I like that when you look in the photos, it's not just a main character. You can always notice that there's someone else within the frame in the background, or to the side. For example, with the girl on the Vespa, there's someone to the left, who's walking. With the girl leaning on the convertible, there's a hand smoking a cigarette, cut off by the frame. In a way I was making movies by way of still photographs.

So the subjects were not necessarily people you ever knew? It's in the imagination, the flirting, more so than the reality of who's in front of you?
For the most part, yes. I went walking along the beaches, an area that I tend to favor, since people are on vacation. I like these locales: the beach and fairgrounds and dances. In general, they were women that I didn't know, I just saw them, they filled me with wonder. Not simply because they were attractive, but because the moment was beautiful—it's always a configuration of several elements. Because, not only did they incarnate something, but there was beautiful light, there was an interesting décor, there were particular poses. There are also, indeed, portraits that I did of women I went out with, with whom I had a love story, and that I photographed because I loved them.


Text Sarah Moroz
All images courtesy Claude Nori and Polka Galérie, Paris

claude nori