Paolo Di Paolo, a photographer who captured the bucolic romance of postwar Italy and intimate images of stars like Sofia Loren, died last month. He was 98.
A self-taught amateur, Di Paolo’s career was brief but prolific. Between the early 1950s, when he first picked up a camera, and the late 1960s, when he hung it up for good, the artist produced some 250,000 negatives, prints, and slides. Many were made on assignment for mid-century lifestyle magazines like , , and .
It was for the later publication that, in 1959, he set out on a road trip with poet and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini to document vacationers along Italy’s coasts. What came of the tour was “The Long Road of Sand,” a poetic story that blended the two artists’ divergent visions of their home country.
“Pasolini was looking for a lost world of literary ghosts, an Italy that no longer existed. I was looking for an Italy that looked to the future,” Di Paolo recalled at the opening of a 2021 exhibition at Milan’s Galleria Carla Sozzani according to WWD. “I conceived the title meaning the strenuous road traveled by Italians to reach well-being and holidays after the war.”
The 2021 show was one of several dedicated to Di Paolo’s work in the last decade of life. Before then, few knew of his work.
Di Paolo was born in Larino, Italy, in 1925, the son of a shop owner and a farmer. He grew up poor—an experience that would come to shape his photographic eye later on.
In 1949, after a stint in the Italian army, Di Paolo left home to enrol at La Sapienza University in Rome. Three years later he was on his way to the offices of a local magazine where he worked to pay the bills when Di Paolo spotted a Leica IIIc camera in a storefront window. The appeal of the instrument proved irresistible: soon after the encounter, he quit his job and used his severance money to buy the camera.
Magazine assignments came in the following years, often putting him in front of buzzy fashion shows and celebrities on holiday. He had a particular gift for capturing intimate portraits of actresses off-screen: Sophia Loren, Kim Novak, Brigitte Bardot, and Gina Lollobrigida were just some of his subjects.
But by the back half of the 1960s, Di Paolo had grown disillusioned with his industry. The final straw came in 1968, when a photo editor reportedly asked him to adopt the invasive, aggressive style of paparazzi—a new trend at the time. The photographer refused and all but abandoned his camera altogether.
It wasn’t until he late 1990s that Di Paolo’s pictures again saw the light of day. One of his daughters, Silvia, was looking for a pair of skis in the family’s cellar when she spotted her father’s archive.
Di Paolo’s last moments came on June 12 at his house in Larino—the city where he was born almost a century prior. The municipality of Larino announced his passing on Facebook, calling the artist a “maestro” and “a precious part of the history of Italian photography.”
Fellow photographer Bruce Weber, who made documentary on Di Paolo’s life and work in 2021, remembered his late friend in an Instagram post. “What a lucky guy I am to have known you, to have walked together with you for a time in this life,” wrote Weber. “I raise a toast to you, .”
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