Photography can be a lot like falling in love. At least for Franco Gobbi. “When you get the shot right, you feel the tickles in your stomach and you don’t know why,” the Italian hairdresser-cum-lensman tells CR. For a decade, Gobbi has been quietly compiling an archive of his personal images. “I didn’t mean to make a book. Everything happened spontaneously,” he says. Nonetheless, with shots of models like Joan Smalls, Behati Prinsloo and Constance Jablonski (among dozens more), a tome practically begged to be made. Enter his debut book of photography, Fragile, which has just been released, and that will be featured in an upcoming exhibit of his work at Paris’ NAMA Nazareth Market.
His monograph is a visual rollercoaster through the fashion and art worlds Gobbi has inhabited for the bulk of his career. He’s been a hairdresser for 25 years: at 14 he was already cutting hair in his small Italian village. At 21, he opened his own salon, and has been a constant presence on editorial shoots and runways ever since. While on set, Gobbi began to notice the disconnect between the girl that showed up to a shoot (flaws and all) and how she appeared in the finished image. “We are used to seeing these girls as untouchable beauties, but there’s no photograph to report on the transition time,” Gobbi says. He’d notice girls coming to set struggling with their own personal emotions, such as splitting up with a boyfriend, and then their metamorphosis into perfection. To capture the in-between he would take models aside during lulls at a shoot and try to frame each girl as he saw them.
At first the models thought he was crazy. “I use low light and a long exposure to draw and paint with the camera. A single shot takes 1.5-3 seconds. The image you see [in the book] is the image I saw in the camera. Nothing has been done in Photoshop,” says Gobbi. He converted most of the color images to black-and-white and overexposed when printing, but that’s it. He’d rarely need to take more than a few shots of a model to know when he got the right one. “The moment is random, but there is a moment of intimacy and fragility in the final shot,” says Gobbi, “it’s a collaboration between the model and me.”
While laying out the book, Gobbi purposefully planned for his reader to have a tangible element to the visual journey: “It’s a sensorial experience. The paper goes from matte and velvety to super shiny and then to cotton.” He also cropped the pictures to be the best “presentation of the moment” and purposefully left off models’ names on the individual portrait pages, “it’s not about a name, but their soul and alter-ego. This project is a gift to women, they are my muses, from their own individual personalities to the strength and capability they all have.”
Fragile by Franco Gobbi is available now.
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