When talent means success
Fabrizio Ferri is a genuine celebrity in the world of photography. He has an imposing presence that quickly vanishes behind a contagious and youthful smile, although a youth he is not. Born in Rome in 1952, he has lived and worked in New York for the past 25 years. He founded his Industria Superstudio complex in Manhattan’s West Village, close to the Meatpacking District. This is where he has created a unique style of shooting for some of the most enduring advertising campaigns. The latest of these is ‘Stop Think Give’ an initiative for the protection of destitute children, promoted by Bulgari and Save the Children.
Ferri has shot over 200 celebrities such as Sting, Meg Ryan, Ricky Martin and Pedro Almandovar. Some 300 portraits characterized by stern looks and focusing on outstretched hands, all wearing a specially designed Bulgari ring, created for Save the Children. The campaign has been extremely successful, raising over USD 35 million. It has also led to a book, with a cover graced by Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody. The book was showcased in Los Angeles as a highlight of the Oscars week. The central theme of the portraits are these famous hands that seem to transcend the lens and suggest “Stop, think, and give your contribution”.
Ferri explains: “With this premise, I was able to convince some celebrities to take part in the project and wear the ring for charity”. He is now working on a new book, ‘One of 100’, dedicated to a limited edition Maserati. Advertising campaigns, special cars, beautiful models, artists: Ferri covers a wide range of interests. The breadth of his gallery of 5-star celebrities is truly outstanding. I ask him which celebrity surprised him the most: “Well, Willem Dafoe was certainly different than I expected, in fact he was quite the opposite. He’s very sweet, clear-eyed, gentle and considerate. Other celebrities are pretty much as you would expect them. However, if there were a likeability prize, it would go to Julia Roberts. Very warm, and quite a tomboy”. Ferri has actually developed a deep friendship with some of the celebrities, for example, Sting and Susan Sarandon, of whom he says, “She’s really fascinating, full of questions. This actually highlights one of America’s problems: we do not ask enough questions. She is special, with a remarkable thirst for answers”.
Ferri is the complete artist, but perhaps uniquely, he has a great sense of business and an entrepreneurial spirit. Starting from his Industria Superstudio photography complex, founded in 1991 and the first of its kind in New York, clients include Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Joseph Altuzarra, Nike, Bulgari, Opening Ceremony, Ermenegildo Zegna, W Magazine, Vogue, i-D Magazine, Marie-Claire, Vanity Fair and many others. In the immediate vicinity of the complex is his Barbuto restaurant, considered the best of Italian cuisine in New York. It is a successful business and constantly well-reviewed. A somewhat satisfied Ferri tells us “Each year, our business just gets better”. In a similar vein, he has opened a resort, Il Monastero, on the island of Pantelleria in the South of Italy, that attracts VIPs such as Madonna. However, Ferri hasn’t actually been there for years: “In America, we don’t really have the concept of holidays.
Even though business is good, I can’t take my foot off the accelerator. I mean, I got married four years ago, and my wife and I have yet to take a break”. His wife is Geraldina Polverelli, originally an art critic. She too has a true business acumen. Bringing new vigour to their endeavours, she is now the Curatorial Projects manager of Industria Superstudio. Ferri has a deep love for New York. “If you have a job that allows you to live in New York, you’d need a very peculiar reason indeed to live anywhere else. You’ve got everything here. It’s easy to work. Your obligations and potential are truly achievable, and clearly so. There’s a degree of freedom and transparency that allows your ideas and projects to really take off. However, you have to be a go-getter. It’s not just for anybody”. So, what kind of energy does the Big Apple offer? “New York has all the contradictions. The sublime and the ugly. It has an extraordinary vitality on the one hand yet none on the other. It’s a metropolis of contrasts…the full package.
At the moment, it’s a centre-point of tremendous physical force, in the middle of a rampant economic recovery. It has the desire to get back up and running after years in the darkness. It’s no cliché to say that New York is really pulling up its sleeves. Here, you don’t hang around for the government to resolve your problems. You pick yourself up, with your own courage and initiative, willingness to invest and integrate. New York is still a privileged vantage point from which to observe the world.”
A question: we’re living in a historical phase were there’s a burning desire for photography: everyone shoots everything. So, how can you really identify a real photographer? “Well, that would be someone whose work is instantly recognizable. It’s someone who is in fact shooting himself through a lens. I think that’s the core truth. But you have to remove part of yourself from your work, or should I say, measure your presence in what you do.”
He acknowledges his own creative pragmatism. I ask him whether, having lived in NY for 25 years, he has reached the prefect mix of Italian creativity and Anglo- Saxon pragmatism: “Truth be told, I was pragmatic even when I lived in Italy. I’ve never lost sight of the fact that creating something new is a real job. When I talk of creative pragmatism, I mean that it’s not just a mental state, but it’s a job… a craft that must be taken seriously.”
A journalist once asked him what started his passion for photography “Well, actually, it only became a passion when it started making me money”. An answer that shows the entrepreneurial spirit of the man. “Passion is a very sensitive issue. We keep on telling the new generations to find their passion. That’s all good and proper, but what if they can’t find it? It’s quite an aristocratic approach. You can find jobs that give you satisfaction and that become a passion. It’s like an inversion of the cause-effect theorem.”
It’s perhaps inevitable to ask what he believes beauty is. After all, he’s taken endless portraits of the world’s most beautiful women. “Monica Bellucci is the perfect incarnation of beauty. A flawless, harmonious face. She is an embodiment of human beauty. She’s also remarkably intelligent, very likeable. She’s her own manager, humble and with her feet firmly on the ground. As soon as you meet her, she can make you laugh. All of these qualities animate her beauty.” So, I ask whether he believes it’s true that a special person has a special aura: “Special aura? That makes me think of something luminous. There are also celebrities who have a profound and unique darkness”. An example? “When certain stars look at you, you can really feel the person. Sting has a unique darkness, it comes from his will to defend inspiration.”
Article by Piera Anna Franini