Interview: Claudio Corrivetti

Famed Italian photographer and publisher Claudio Corrivetti recalls
friendship and collaborations with renowned Brooklyn photographer Leonard Freed

Brooklynites In Rome: Special to the Brooklyn Eagle
By Palmer Hasty

While conducting research in April for an article about renowned Brooklyn photographer Leonard Freed I came across an entry on a website published by the Magnum Photographic Agency that was serving as a tribute to Freed after he passed away.  

The contemporary Italian photographer and book publisher Claudio Corrivetti, who lives in Rome, had written a tribute wherein he mentioned how he first met Freed at a gallery in Rome that was exhibiting some of Freed’s photos.  He also mentioned a photography book involving photographs of Venice that he and Freed collaborated on in 2004, just two years before Freed passed away.

As mentioned in the article about Leonard Freed, in April, I was invited to spend three weeks in Rome. I decided that while I was there, I would try to contact Corrivetti and learn more about what the Roman photographer thought of Freed’s work, and ask him about the Venice photography book project, another fascinating connection the Brooklyn native had to the eternal city.  

When I reached him on the phone, Corrivetti invited me to the office of his book publishing company, Postcart Edizioni, which was only a 10-euro taxi ride from the hotel where I was staying on via Veneto.  

Claudio Corrivetti founded Postcart Edizioni in 1994. More than 10 of Postcart’s approximately 100 published photo books have won national and international book awards.

The book Corrivetti and Freed produced is titled “Venice/Venezia.”  It’s a beautiful 272-page hardcover book with color photographs by Corrivetti juxtaposed with Leonard Freed’s classic black-and-white photos of Venice. The printing is excellent.  

There are four sections, each representing a season of the year. Each section is composed of about 20 photos from each photographer. During production, neither photographer had any idea of what the other might be shooting. The Freed black and whites are, as one would expect, timeless moments full of surprise and depth. And Corrivetti, the younger of the two, who was obviously inspired by his already famous and critically acclaimed collaborator and mentor, delivered stunning color renditions of the iconic city that reveal, like Freed’s photos, a master photographer’s skill of capturing an unseen history within a moment, and with a cinematographer’s sense of color.  

(Note: Annarita Curcio, director of Public Relations for Postcart, sat with us during the interview to help with translating questions and answers.)

BE: When did you first meet Leonard Freed?

CC: I met Leonard casually in Rome during an exhibition of another photographer in a small gallery in Rome. I heard the owner of the gallery point out to someone that Leonard Freed was there.  I had seen his photos in magazines in the past.  I recognized Leonard and went up to him and introduced myself: “I am Claudio, and I am a fan.”  

I told him I wanted to give him a book of mine.  I had produced a book of my black-and-white photos of Naples (“Eyes on Naples.”)  I told him I would like to give him a copy of the book and asked him where he was staying while in Rome.

BE: So you gave him the book?

CC: Yes, later, when my wife and I went to a dinner party with about 20 people, including Leonard. That night I gave him the book and it was passed around the table.  No one seemed to understand that the book was mine.  Some of the people started complimenting Leonard; “What a beautiful book,” they said to him.  

Although I took this as a great compliment, I was still a little embarrassed because that was, of course, not my intention. After this misunderstanding, eventually everyone left the restaurant except Leonard, and my wife and I. The three of us talked about photography, Rome, New York and each other’s lives for about two more hours. We promised to meet again.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is naiadi.jpg
An early Correvetti photo.

BE: When was the next meeting?

CC: After several months, I received a phone call from Leonard.  He was back in Rome and wanted to meet the next day. We met at a restaurant and talked more about photography, and he told me he was there working on a project about Rome. This was in 2003.  He showed me some very beautiful photos…I saw him another time, and we became close friends.  He came to my house for dinner. He took photos of my wife and daughter.

BE: When did you approach the idea of actually doing a book together?

CC: I showed him my black-and-white photos of Venice, and he liked them. At that point, I wanted to work with him as an editor or collaborator, so I asked him if he wanted to do a project together about an Italian city. He did. And when we started wondering about which city, we both said [at] about the same time, “Venice.”

BE: How did you get the project going?

CC: We spent a couple of months organizing the travel arrangements.  In February, 2004, we made the first trip to Venice.   
We made four trips that year.  We spent 10 days together each season in Venice.  We’d meet in the same place each trip, have a glass of wine and then went on our own throughout the city the shoot photos.  After a days’ shooting, we would meet for dinner.

BE: So you couldn’t see each other’s work?

CC: We would talk about the places where we shot, but we never saw each other’s photos.  That was the beautiful thing about the project; it required an element of artistic trust, not to see any of the photos until after several months.

BE: How did you set up the book?

CC: The book was divided into four chapters.  Every chapter was a season, with 52 pages of 20 photos each per chapter.

Corrivetti’s sense of humor. One of his photos from the book “Venezia”.

BE: Being the younger photographer, what do you think you learned from Freed during the Venice experience?

CC: It was very humbling for me to work with Leonard.  He was a successful Magnum photographer.  For me, it was an epic experience as a photographer.  He taught me a great deal about the importance of symmetry within a photograph.  He was so quick to capture symmetry and message at the same time. He was always trying to discover the real life of the people in his photographs, a special point of view. I saw him as someone who was programmed to make photos.  His mind was always on the move. He was very creative; every moment was like a special occasion…an opportunity to make a great photo.  

And he did the project for no money.  I paid for his airplane, his hotel and food, but he never asked me for money related to the work…it was very special. I miss him.

BE: What kind of cameras were used?

CC: He had two Leica cameras, one with a 50-millimeter lens and one with a 55-millimeter lens.  I used a Leica M6 for the Venice project.

BE: Have you ever been to America?  

CC: I had been to New York three times before I met Leonard.

BE: Did you take photos then?

CC: Yes, I have some black-and-white photos from New York.

BE: Any of Brooklyn?

CC: No, not of Brooklyn itself, but I did make a photo from the Brooklyn Bridge. A shot that was used for an album cover.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is corrivetti-album.jpg
Italian photographer Claudio Corrivetti holding the album cover with his photograph
from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Photos of Claudio Corrivetti: Palmer Hasty.
Claudio Corrivetti photos: Courtesy of Claudio Corrivetti.