Maria Vittoria Backhaus and her timeless photography

Maria Vittoria Backhaus is a contemporary great female photographer who was a pioneer of still life and interior design photography. She finds inspiration in a blend of 1960s pop art and minimalist, conceptual art. 

Her work includes photographing for Fotoromanzi, Italian comics illustrated by photographs rather than drawings, in the 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s, she worked as a fashion photographer, utilizing elaborate sets, which was uncommon at the time. One of her most recent projects is ICONS, where she took inspiration from classic saints to create digital collages for the icons of secular culture.

 

A reporter first, fashion photographer later, and not only. Interiors, objects, nature... After studying scenography at Brera, and after a stay in Paris following the French May, Maria Vittoria Backhaus collaborated with stylists and designers, immortalizing the moment of maximum creativity in the 70's and the birth of Made in Italy, thanks to which Italian fashion and design began to emerge on the international scene.

Maria Vittoria Backhaus Portrait

This, in short, is the story of Maria Vittoria Backhaus. But we prefer you to discover it through her words. That's why we asked her a few questions:

 

Carla Fracci in rehearsal, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy, 1965 (b/w photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

How did you get to the camera, what were the first reportages?

After attending Scenography at the Accademia di Brera in Milan, I started taking pictures by chance during a trip to Sicily. Reportage photography thus became my job. I have published several reports in various magazines and then move, later, to studio photography of fashion, still-life and design.

 

Caffe Quadri, Venice, Italy, 1964 (b/w photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images St. Mark's Square, Venice, Italy, 1964 (b/w photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

Caffe Quadri, Venice, Italy, 1964 (b/w photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images
St. Mark's Square, Venice, Italy, 1964 (b/w photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

Do you remember your first fashion shot?


My first fashion photo, imagined together with Walter Albini: a colorful set built and painted in my studio, inspired by Barragan, where a skirt and a woman's foot pass by.

 

Walter Albini for Trell Adv, Milan, Italy, 1977 (photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

Walter Albini for Trell Adv, Milan, Italy, 1977 (photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

The sets of your fashion shoots, particularly for Walter Albini, are memorable and dictated a style. What are your visual and artistic references?

As far as art is concerned, cinema, theater, painting, but in the design and construction of my sets, the desire to tell the story of my time is always decisive.

 

Walter Albini Adv, Milan, Italy, 1978 (b/w photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

Walter Albini Adv, Milan, Italy, 1978 (b/w photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

 

How has the work of the photographer changed from when you started to today?


The photographer is no longer asked for projects and creativity but often to be an executor of other people's ideas.

 

Black and white, Editorial for HARPER 'S BAZAAR Italy inspired by the film “BOYDY” by Ken Russell Milan, Italy, 1979 (photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

Black and white, Editorial for HARPER 'S BAZAAR Italy inspired by the film “BOYDY” by Ken Russell Milan, Italy, 1979 (photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

You have experimented a lot with the use of Polaroid, would you like to tell us why and what are your favorite subjects?

I really loved and used all types of Polaroids. For a long time, I photographed only with the Polaroid 809 that let me work with a large-format camera 20x25 with very special results. This Polaroid got me closer to the subjects, taking much more essential photos.

 

Hands, Milan, Italy, 1989 (photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images Hair, Milan, Italy, 1988 (photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman ImagesHands, Milan, Italy, 1989 (photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images
Hair, Milan, Italy, 1988 (photo) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

 

After the first reportages and then the work for fashion, and in addition to your passion for nature, you are a collector of toys and small objects. Can you tell us how they become unexpected sets and subjects for new photographic shots?

In the past, I had always built large sets for my photos, and since the 70's I started to re-propose them in miniature and to set my stories on them.

 

Icon #12 Barack Obama, 2013 (digital collage) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images  Icon #05, 2008 (digital collage) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images Icon #04, 2008 (digital collage)  / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images  Icon #07 Mao Zedong, 2012 (digital collage) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman ImagesIcon #12 Barack Obama, 2013 (digital collage) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images
 Icon #05, 2008 (digital collage) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images
Icon #04, 2008 (digital collage)  / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images
 Icon #07 Mao Zedong, 2012 (digital collage) / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

 

Is there a photo you are particularly fond of?

No. However, I always hope that I've managed to take a photo that tells something and that hasn't been taken yet. My favorite? The one I'm going to take.

 

Portrait of a piece of turf, Filicudi, Italy, 2008 (photo) Series of outdoor shots taken between Sicily and Piedmont / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

Portrait of a piece of turf, Filicudi, Italy, 2008 (photo) Series of outdoor shots taken between Sicily and Piedmont / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

 

The present and past work of Maria Vittoria Backhaus is the result of rigorous professionalism: the images act simultaneously as a record of reality and as a continuous invention that tells a story.

Shots that exemplify the opposite of improvisation, or rather the result of conscious and rigorous thought and research that materialize the culminating moment of a precise mental journey.

Timeless photographs: they could have been taken yesterday or tomorrow.

 

Small Jungle, Filicudi, Italy, 2012 (photo) Personal search for micro landscapes, outdoor shootings / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

Small Jungle, Filicudi, Italy, 2012 (photo) Personal search for micro landscapes, outdoor shootings / © Maria Vittoria Backhaus / Bridgeman Images

 

Maria Vittoria Backhaus's work has been published in major fashion and design magazines, and she has worked on numerous advertising campaigns and catalogues. She lives and works in Milan, and has spent much of her time on the island of Filicudi, which recurs in many of her works.

It was with great pleasure that she let Bridgeman Images into her Milan studio, and we are happy to be able to represent her archive worldwide.

Read more about other Great Female Photographers:

Wanda Wulz photography
Jessie Tarbox Beals
Dorothea Lange photography
Tina Modotti photography

Silvia Camporesi photography

 

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