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An interview with Jean Pigozzi

For many, Jean Pigozzi is a businessman, an art collector, and a philanthropist. But for a select few, from music legends to fashion icons, Jean Pigozzi is both friend and photographer — capturing intimate moments during enchanted summers, spent surrounding his pool at the Villa Dorane in  Cap d’Antibes. It is these photographs that are the focal point for “Pool Party” Jean Pigozzi’s latest exhibition at The Helmut Newton Foundation.

“Pool Party” is exactly that. A celebration featuring a wonderful array of small-format snapshots of a number of Jean Pigozzi’s legendary friends — from Mick Jagger threatening to push Helmut Newton into a pool, to Naomi Campbell glamorously frolicking with a cocktail in hand and two blissfully ignorant dogs in the background. We sit down with Jean Pigozzi and talk about his early forays into photography, his passion for art collection, the people that have inspired his work, and the countless pool parties he has thrown and the friendships that have formed thereafter.

Could you tell us about your first experience with photography? How did your love for the craft begin?
When I was nine years old, my father gave me a Kodak Brownie. That’s when I started taking pictures, most of which were mainly of my dog. I was always interested in visual things, but my drawings were absolutely horrible. With photography, I could record my life in a much more precise way.

You studied at Harvard where you mingled with artists and tastemakers. Not only are you a photographer and internationally renowned businessman — you are also an avid collector. Could you tell us about your most prized collections?
My most prized collection is my Contemporary African Art Collection (www.CAACart.com), which I started 30 years ago. In fact, a small part of this collection is currently being shown at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.
 
You often cite Helmut Newton, who was also a friend and colleague, as a source of inspiration. Are there any other photographers who have inspired your work?  
Yes, I also love the work of Robert Frank, Irving Penn and Seydou Keita.

 Tell us about your latest exhibition at the Helmut Newton Foundation - Jean Pigozzi : Pool Party?
“These pictures were taken over the last 40 years around the pool at my house in the south of France. These are very relaxed, non-posed, fun pictures of my friends sitting and talking around the pool. What is fun about this is that 100% of the pictures were taken in a very limited space, probably about the size of a tennis court?”
 

Pool Party is such an iconic collection of photographs, all surrounding your pool at the Villa Dorane. Could you tell us about your love affair with Cap d’Antibes?
I have been coming to Cap d’Antibes since the age of one; and this is where I have spent the last 65 summers. Obviously, I like this place very much. I like the weather, I like the light, I like the food, and I like the people who come to Cap d’Antibes
 

Mick Jagger, Naomi Campbell, Liz Taylor, Bono, and Jack Nicholson are just some of your many iconic subjects in Pool Party - Is there a particular portrait that is a favourite of yours?
I really like the picture of Mick Jagger threatening to push Helmut Newton into the pool. It is fun to see these two icons having such a great time together.
 

 Finally, what do you think makes a photograph iconic?  
Usually, an iconic photograph is one that reads very easily — an image that needs no explanation. The subject has to be strong and the composition has to be interesting.
 

 

JEAN PIGOZZI

HELMUT NEWTON FOUNDATION

Interview by Hannah Tan

View our Gallery of Helmut Newton.Unseen, Mario Testino.Undressed, Jean Pigozzi.Pool Party