The 288 page, 8.8 x 10 inches, 3.7 pound hardback copy of Carlo Mollino: Polaroids by Fulvio Ferrari and his son Napoleone Ferrari is an extremely well produced photobook. The cover is an opulent red fabric with a reproduced Mollino polaroid attached in the centre and the inside cover design at back and front smacks of opulent material to the taste of the photographer.
Carlo Mollino (1905-1973) was the son of an affluent engineer, Eugenio Mollino, from Turin, Northern Italy. Carlo was a successful designer, architect and photographer; an aviator and a trained engineer. He’d published Il Messagio Dalla Camera Obscura in 1949, republished under the English translated title Message from the Darkroom in 2007, with statuesque models and discussion about the nature of photography.
He owned a number of properties. The affluent large apartment he inhabited in Turin with antique furnishings and a housekeeper. He owned a 2 story house in the hills above Turin called Villa Zaira (purchased in 1960). And he had the use of his father’s prestigious studio in Turin for work – the place he made the first black and white polaroids of the project. However, Carlo Mollino also purchased, but never spent a night in, what is now known as Casa Mollino, an 18th Century house on the banks of the Po River in the historic centre of Turin. Carlo Mollino spent years and great expense reconstructing the Casa Mollino, calling it in his drawings “Warrior’s House of Rest”. Fulvio Ferrari, co-author of this book, is the current owner of Casa Mollino.
Affluent, acclaimed for several important building designs, a complex human being whose friends did not know each other; a man “who used” his friends for personal ends; Carlo Mollino drew with both hands, enjoyed the occult and died with a secret.
The story of Carlo Mollino’s polaroids begins for us in 1973 after his death. In a drawer of an antique cabinet, in ordinary envelopes, approximately 2000 female nude portraits were discovered. Mollino had forsaken his Leica, Rolleiflex and Plaubel cameras in 1960 for Polaroid cameras. He shot a Model 800, Model 900 and a J66 Polaroid Land Camera on a project that lasted a decade, but ended prematurely. Upon death there was nobody to answer the critical question of why? Carlo Mollino never married and left no heirs. The executors mixed up any order the meticulous photographer had assigned.
The models were professional working girls, friends and other women he selected. The props were simple, purchased from Turin, Paris and San Gallo, Switzerland. The style of all were minimalist, detached and almost “passport photo” aesthetic. And each polaroid was backed with cardboard by Mollino’s hand. There are speculations that this collection of nudes may have been private erotica for personal use? Or pure voyeurism? Perhaps even content for a single copy edition. Or possibly this was project about consistency within the constraint of the Polaroid image size. Carlo Mollino never left the answer to inform us. He never married and left no heirs. His confidantes appear to be none.
What we do know is that Carlo Mollino went to great expense and effort in purchasing Villa Zaira and Casa Mollino in the 1960s. His most iconic nude polaroid photographs were made, after 1968, in Casa Mollino, although he never spent a single night. Again, the questions arise around why? When he had his father’s studio and lived in opulent comfort in Turin. Was the Casa Mollino really his Warrior’s House of Rest? Built for making these images? Similar in some way to an Egyptian pyramid?
Attesting to the skill of Carlo Mollino, an oak and glass table he created in 1949 was sold at auction by Christie’s New York in 2005 for $3,824,000. This set a World record price for 20th Century furniture.