GIOVANNI GASTEL
Milanese from Milan, 60 years old, photographer

«I STILL WANT A RECKLESS LIFE, THE SENSE OF THE RIDICULOUS AND FASHION MADNESS»

by ANDREA SCARPA - Photo by ANDREA COLZANI

60 YEARS OLD. A MISTAKE.
My age is just a miscalculation, someone must have been mistaken. I mean, I know I’m 60, but I don’t think I’ve changed so much from when I was 30. My mother once told me something very nice, “See, I know I am 90 years old, but if you wake me up in the middle of the night to ask me how old I am, I would instinctively say 35 “. This is wonderful!

ME A WISE MAN?
Being older doesn’t make me feel wiser. I guess wisdom is not in my genes.

THE FOOLEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE?
I can’t speak about it in front of my daughter… Just joking. I do all sorts of things. I jump into water from 15 meter heights, I dive 25 meters under water, I get fines driving.

THE BEGINNING WITHOUT MADE IN ITALY
When I was 19 I could have never imagined I would have achieved so much. When I started the Made in Italy didn’t exist yet. The prospects were terrible.

AUSTERITY
Petrol was rationed to three days a week, there was austerity, inflation was between 18 and 20 percent. People died every day, the situation was far more dramatic than today. Everyone told me photography was a dead profession and to give it up. But thinking about it I kept telling myself: ‘all right, but I want to be a photographer…’. And so I did it anyway. And in time: life allowed me 5-6 years to learn, since I’m a 100% self-taught photographer.

CRAPPY PHOTOS
I also kept the crappy pictures I took, I show them to young people. It’s important because maybe someone sees what I do today and may think ‘I was born learned’, (literal translation from Naples dialect) as they say in Naples. It’s not true. I took bad photographs for many years, then I learned, I improved. Then I started taking good pictures. It is reassuring news for everyone.

THE FIRST STUDIO (WITH FUNGHI)
The first studio (was) a heinous cellar where funghi grew, in a prestigious building in the center of Milan, near Piazza San Babila, quite representative of myself and my partner Bardo Fabiani, both spoiled kids guilty of being passionate about photography whose fathers had entirely stopped funding. We were broke. When I was 17 my father told me: “You don’t want to go on with your studies? You won’t see a penny from me ever again. ”

THE MAIL MYSTERY
After six months in the studio I had not received my mail and that was strange. Bardo and I had become very close friends with the porter Dante, who owned the other half of the cellar where he stored his salami. At one point I went up and told him: “Dante, something is wrong. How is it that in six months I have not even received a postcard? “. He said, “Mr Gaspare, believe me, nothing has arrived.” What did you call me? “Mr Gaspare, Giovanni Gaspare.’’ Nooo … My name is Gastel, Giovanni Gastel! “Well then I did receive a lot of mail,’’ he said, ‘but I rejected it all! I was wondering who that Gastel was… “. Now, finally, my last name doesn’t get misunderstood so easily.

GASTEL, GENERAL GASTEL…
The one I preferred was General Custer… That one I liked.

DUTCH ROOTS
I have only recently found out the origin of the name. We have been Italian for 15 generations, but we are originally from North Brabant province in Holland, where there is a small town called Gastel.

THE SECRET OF SUCCESS
Jaques Brel used to sing: ‘It seemed our only special skill was never growing up, just ageing’. I think that’s the secret for an artist. I’ve always said: what I did doesn’t exist anymore, what I will do might never exist, the only sure thing is now. Every day I have only one chance, no matter what it is, and so it does not change much if it is a supermodel, a button or a stone. I have to take the best picture I can and I stake everything on that day.

NEGATIVE MOMENTS
1993 he was one of the most wonderful years of my career: I worked for Dior and Nina Ricci in Paris, for Trussardi and Missoni in Milan. Suddenly, in three months I lost all my clients. The art director Flavio Lucchini left Donna and so we all went away, Dior laid me off, Trussardi no longer needed my photos, as well as Missoni and Krizia…It was terrible! I remember walking around the studio like a caged tiger. What happened? This cannot be! I wondered. But that’s life for you. Then I analyzed my work, I realized that maybe it was a bit aged, perhaps it needed to be updated. After a while everything went back to work beautifully well.

PANIC ATTACKS
I really didn’t feel well at all, but everyone told me I was fine, that I had absolutely nothing. Then my wife Anna saw a doctor on a TV show speaking about this disease. I rushed to him, but Dr. Cassano wasn’t available and so I went to his assistant that in five days of therapy pulled me through. It was a trivial syndrome called panic attacks. I suffered from panic attacks from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, ten very painful and tiring years. These attacks can be of two types: those that make you feel you will die and those that make you think you are going crazy. Mine belonged to the second category. I felt like crap, I had palpitations, tremors, cold sweat… This disease can be crippling, but I never gave up. I continued to work and fly: at the time my life was very busy and I often had to travel around the world.

YOUR MAIN OBSESSION
Creativity. I’m not sure if what I do is ‘art’ or not. What I do know is that I don’t feel well if I don’t take pictures. If I do take them I’m fine.

WHO DO YOU THANK THE MOST?
I definitely thank the two people who decided that my photos were good: Flavio Lucchini, extraordinary art director and father of Condé Nast, then Donna, Moda… and his wife Gisella Borioli, director of Donna. My gratitude also goes to Alberto Nodolini of Vogue Italy. They decided that what I did was nice and since then it has become beautiful. How did they do it? By publishing 30-40 pages with my photos in every issue.

UNDERSTANDING FASHION
‘I was born’ in Fashion when I was 17 years old, so I speak their language. It’s not possible to understand them from the outside. Let me tell you a funny story. It was the late 80s. Meeting with Krizia. I was already working, without an agency, at the campaign for one of her perfumes. The greatest Italian advertising manager, Emanuele Pirella, a very intelligent man, was also with us. We talked for an hour, Krizia explained everything and then we left. Walking out, Emanuele, who is a friend, murmured: “Giovanni, did you understand what she said?”. Yes, sure. And he says: “I didn’t understand a word. You do it and then send me the pictures.” Nothing has ever changed. Fashion is still so.

FASHION AND THE SENSE OF THE RIDICULOUS
Maybe the wiser ones have it, but they are a minority… anyway, the Fashion environment is full of irony and self-mockery.

CRAZY STORIES WORTH MENTIONING
An emblematic story comes from Emanuele Pirella. Emanuele and his partner Gottshe were summoned to Paris by Karl Lagerfeld. They were the major creative couple operating in Italy. They had taken some ideas to Paris and were shown to Lagerfeld’s door. These two giants of Italian and world communication tried to enter but their chaperon stopped them and said: “You can’t possibly get in.” And they said, “What do you mean? We can’t get in?”. ‘’No no, Mr. Lagerfeld does not receive anyone today.’’ “what do we do then?”. No no Mr. Lagerfeld doesn’t want to see anyone. “Ah! That’s a pity, we have to go back to Milan then”. ‘’No no, don’t go back now. You must attend the meeting”. ‘’What do you mean?”. The meeting took place in front of the closed door. ‘’Who are you? “We are Pirella and Gottsche from Milan.” ‘’What do you want?” ‘’We are here for your perfume”. ‘’All right. Do you have any drawings?’’ “Yes sure”. ‘’Slip them under the door…’’
This was absolutely sublime.

FASHION AND CRISIS
Italian fashion works well in the world, but not in the local market. Sales of Italian products are very bad. This creates terrible repercussions on fashion magazines that need advertising to survive. According to the Chamber of High Fashion in the past two years sales have dropped by 50 to 60 percent, and this has destroyed publishing. But not Italian Fashion.
I think Milan is catching up. Better not complain.

STIFF UPPER LIP
I’m very happy because Expo gave back to the city that ‘stiff upper lip’ feeling. They had almost managed to put us down. ‘Milan, the beating heart of the country… you are shit just like everyone else.’

WHY MILAN IS BETTER
An entrepreneurial professionalism also applied to the creative industry, which is quite rare. This skill can be found all over Lombardy, not only in Milan. It is highly responsible for the success of Italian Fashion and can be taught to young people, without limiting their creativity. The message is: creativity without a rigorous system, including economic support and good governance, is a wasted talent.

YOUR GREATEST STROKE OF LUCK
I’ve been awfully privileged in my life, I admit it. One of the huge fortunes is that Made in Italy, the system of pret a porter that has revolutionized the history of Fashion, was born here. If it had been born in Tokyo, perhaps I would have gone to Tokyo, but I cannot swear on it. Everything that concerned my job happened right where I was.

YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE
Since I was a kid, also because I suffered from insomnia, I’ve had a fierce love for Piazza Mercanti, the last 100% medieval square in Milan. I feel very close to medieval Milan, so I would recommend that everyone sees the dawn in Piazza Mercanti.

MEMORIES OF UNCLE LUCHINO (LUCHINO VISCONTI)
Uncle Luchino saw my pictures, he died when I was already 21 years old, almost 22. I had a chance to spend a long time with him, for some months I also had the opportunity to see him filming. Then after he became ill he spent months at Villa Erba at my mom’s, in Cernobbio. Mom also forced me to show him my first photographs. It was very exciting. The nice thing is that he didn’t treat me like the little 16 year old boy that took a couple of pictures, as I feared, but as a professional. We spoke man to man.

THE MASTER’S ADVICE
He told me: ‘’Sure, lights are interesting, the framing too, but be careful with this and that. If I can give you some advice, work on colour-schemes, the proportions are good …”. That was already a reward.
Quitting taking pictures feels impossible at the moment, I chose this profession also because I can do it forever, until God wants. Sure, if then my mind stops functioning…

AT 60 YEARS OLD NOTHING IS BETTER THAN…?
I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say it… Pussy!