A renowned fashion-photographer Robert Vano came to Kyiv to open an exhibition of Czech Photography. At the gala opening I had an opportunity to speak with the legend. Mr.Vano is a Czech who was working in NYC with the most well-known fashion-photographers like Horst.P. Horst, Richard Avedon etc. He was also the one to launch Czech Elle in the 90’s.
How was it working with those legendary photographers: Horst.P.Horst and Richard Avedon?
I used to do make up and hair at that time. My agency sent me to Horst.P.Horst and I didn’t know who he was. He was old already, maybe 70 or so. He was always dressed in suit. All the younger photographers they were wearing T-shirts and jeans. He always had a bow tie and everything was perfect. In the morning his assistants were saying: he’s coming, he’s coming. And we all lined up. And he was walking like that. He was so old. He would come to everybody and said “Good morning”. When he approached me, he asked: ‘Where are you from? You have a funny accent’. I said: ‘ I’m from Czechoslovakia’. And answered: ‘Really? I told Truman not to give Czehoslovakia to the Russians, as I still have my house there’. When I came home I told this to a family I was staying at and they told me: ‘It’s true, Horst.P.Horst was making pictures of many American presidents, also he was shooting Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Coco Chanel etc. As for us, we were young and we went to parties and came late. And to do the shoots we have to come early to the studio – it was such a torture. I asked Horst.P.Horst why he doesn’t use flash and he answered: ‘There is not such a light as flash in the world, only when Gods are angry, there is lightning’. He worked really slowly, everything had to be perfect. He made everything by hand: film processing etc.
You worked as a make-up artist at that time?
Yes, I started as a hairdresser actually. I was working at Vidal Sasoon at Madison Avenue and an editor from Cosmopolitan came to have a hair cut. She liked my work and she asked me if I could work for a fashion shoot. They told me: today all the girls like the look of Maria Callas in Medea in the 3rd scene of a play. You need to make that look. But I haven’t got a clue who Maria Callas was. So, they told me: ‘You want to work for Bloomingdales and you do not know who Maria Callas is? Once you know, call us. Then I went to a bookstore and I found a biography of Maria Callas. I learned everything about her, called back and I got a job. If I wouldn’t, I might never get this job in fashion. I’ve been working for 5 years like that and then came the crisis. All the make-up artists had to learn to do hair and vice versa to economize money. I started to be a photographer at 34. I never worked with Helmut Newton, David Bailey, but I worked with Richard Avedon, Paolo Roversi etc. I’ve been working with Marlene Dietrich in 1971.
How old are you now if it’s fine to ask, of course?
Sure, no problem, I’m 65 years old now.
There are not so many fashion-photographers from Czech Republic, but a lot of models. Was it you who promoted Karolina Kurkova as a model?
Your aesthetic reminds me of Robert Mapplethorpe pictures.
His photographs were made with flash. They were very sharp. We were working in the same time, but we never met. When I quit fashion photography, I lived in Paris and in Milan. I got back to Prague and launched Czech Elle.
You told you know what is sold in a magazine?
A girl on the cover should be smiling. 10 out of 12 should be blondes here in Czech Republic. As the majority of girls are blondes here. There is little artistic photography here in mainstream magazine. The pictures have to be sharp, they have to sell the products. Only several people know the recipe of a magazine and they do not want to change it as this is the format that sells.