Iconic Spotlight : Death in Venice, by Eva Sereny

Silvana Mangano

The following year after my work on Catch-22, I heard that Death in Venice was going into production, so I contacted John Calley in L.A who told me to approach Michael Baumohl London—Head of Advertising and Distribution in Europe for Warner Bros. He looked through my minimally published material and wasn’t particularly impressed. However, he condescended to give me two weeks of work, as a ‘special photographer,’ to cover Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice. The film starred Silvana Mangano and Dirk Bogarde. I got on very well with Silvana and I would go on to work with her several more times. Working on the film was a great experience. However, there was an unfortunate (not serious) incident involving Dirk Bogarde.

When I came onto the set, I wasn’t introduced to the lead actor—Dirk Bogarde—before starting to photograph. Usually, one is introduced by the publicist or director’s assistant to the camera crew and cast, especially to the actors. However, for some reason this didn’t happen.

As I started to work, Bogarde angrily shouted across the vast Hotel de Bain beach, ‘Who’s that there with the camera pointing at me!?’ I became the focus of attention. Definitely not an enviable situation to be in but also a very embarrassing one especially as a’ newcomer’ to the set. However, once I was properly introduced, all was forgotten. From then on I made a point that in future when I come to work on a new film I’m always introduced. It is very important to never upset your working relationship with whoever you are photographing. I worked with Bogarde many times after that and there was never again any problem.

I found [director Luchino Visconti] to be somewhat detached. But on the other hand he was extremely polite to everyone working around him. In my view it was understandable, he was utterly focused on every facet of the filming. He was also very meticulous. Every detail had to be exactly right. Even if there was a scene in a room with a cupboard that would remain closed during the filming of the scene—the china and glassware had to be of the period because there could always be a possibility that Visconti might want it to be opened!

When Death in Venice had just initiated postproduction, Michael Baumohl who gave me the two weeks f work as a ‘special photographer’ on the film, was trying to contact an Italian photographer known to the American film community to shoot a session with Silvana Mangano wearing Piero Tosi’s magnificent costumes. Like Visconti, Tosi was also very meticulous when it came to his costumes. The dresses, especially, Mangano wore were extraordinary, so it’s no wonder why a special session would be set-up by Warner Bros. just for the dresses. But as luck would have it, the photographer in question could not be found. He was on holiday. So, as a last resort Michael Baumhol had to give me this huge assignment.

Silvana was great to work with. We started the shoot at 10am in the morning. Silvana had the hairdresser and the makeup lady waiting for her at 6am. She had 4 hours of hair and makeup to go through, exactly as when she was filming. We shot for 2 days in a garden location I found and one day in a studio. Silvana’s patience and collaboration were outstanding—especially as she suffered the heat. We were in Rome in mid-July! On my last day of the Tosi costume shoot with Mangano, the publicist who was co-ordinating the shoot, came up to me saying that the Sunday Times Magazine wanted to send their photographer to shoot Silvana in Tosi’s costumes. I told him speak to Silvana about it. She was up in arms and replied ‘Absolutely not I’ve gone through three days working with Eva—if the Sunday Times Magazine wants pictures, tell them to use Eva’s pictures.’ And they did! This story became the initiation of my career as a photographer.

Story taken from ‘Behind Her Lens‘ available from the Iconic Images Store.

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