The Espais Volart of the Vila Casas Foundation is showing Please don’t smile, by the photographer Frank Horvat who, having worked relentlessly during his professional life, now offers a collection of photographs taken in the field of fashion in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Frank Horvat was born in Abbazia on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia in 1923, in the heart of an intellectual Jewish family where the reading of poetry occurred with the same ease as drinking a glass of water.
Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Rilke, Leopardi and Baudelaire would be his companions in solitude and would become the sap which over time indirectly fed into his photography. Despite numerous attempts and strong self-discipline, Horvat considered himself to be a frustrated poet. Having left behind his border fortress, he travelled the world, camera in hand and had his first experience of photojournalism. Around the 1950s he settled permanently in Paris where he would discover a city full of stimulation and inspiration.
In his photographs from those years, published in magazines such as Vogue, Elle, Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar, Horvat showed a predilection for fashion and for the world of women, which, in that period of his youth, were presented to him as an as yet inaccessible treasure. Through his black and white images he situated the woman, elegantly dressed in satin, at the centre; among the street crowds which unknowingly, within the dynamics of their own lives, embodied difference and contrast.
In fact, Horvat, whose work sometimes showed the clear influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson, managed to become the anti-profile of these publications by proposing scenes which, as a result of their neorealism, were a contradiction to the anxieties of glamour and sophistication that had pursued him until then, and which showed a kind of woman who really did not exist. It was from his attempt to photograph women in the street, le non control, that came a persistent technique which marked the rhythm of his photographs. For Horvat, excessive control ended up destroying the photo, and so he allowed daily life to evoke its own imperfection and co-direct the camera untamed.
Horvat’s work, framed within an opportune debauchery, is dominated by a sweet timidness which really ever surrender itself to the healthy conviction of those who know they are doing something well. Original and atypical, his is an easy, natural and poetic photography – simple is essence but not ideas – which is shrouded by a natural sense of calm and order, and manages to freeze the moment with an ease that is far from banal. If his photography shows anything it is that sincerity is very difficult to achieve.
There is never a definitive script in his work.
Horvat does not fit into any specific style but he defines himself as an errant Jew travelling through the multiple possibilities of photography. There is never a definitive script in his work but rather a desire for constant reinvention which leads him to make eclecticism the bases of his style and intuition his motto.
Despite the temptations of different genres throughout his career, his fashion photos have to be the work which best defines him; a little bubble in time that you go back to again and again – knowing that you have been there before – in search of a kind of poetic comfort. Please, don’t smile…because not smiling makes me smile.
The exhibition Frank Horvat. Please don’t smile can be seen at the Espais Volart of the Vila Casas Foundation in Barcelona until 28 July.