In 1947, when he was 15, Frank Horvat sold a valuable collection of stamps to buy his first camera, on the advice of a friend who assured him that taking photos was a surefire way to get closer to girls. And so it turned out: in the mid-1950s, Horvat was photographing top models for fashion magazines in Paris, New York and beyond. After settling in London for two years in 1954, he was in such demand that he lived at Claridge’s, ordered his suits from Savile Row and drove to jobs in a white Rolls-Royce.
“He really was a big star there, says Fiammetta, Horvat’s daughter, and he loved playing dashing. But it was very different from the man I knew. Horvat, who died in 2020, had five children, of which Fiammetta is the youngest. A former theater designer, she now presides over her father’s archive at his former home near Paris and has curated a retrospective of his work for this month’s Photo London photography fair.
The exhibition contrasts Horvat’s early shoots for magazines such as Vogue, Elle, Life and Picture Post – in which he places elaborate haute couture models in incongruous, everyday situations on the street – with a more journalistic series , over Paris at night. “Poor and dilapidated”, was how he later described the town, in its otherwise heavily romanticized post-war moment. “It was sordid and dirty. But that sort of thing can also make for great photos. The two series are also the subject of a second Horvat exhibition, at the Jeu de Paume museum in Tours, in June.
Horvat was born in Abbazia, Italy (now the Croatian town of Opatija), in 1928. He is less well known in Britain than his fresh, instinctive – and much imitated – photographs deserve. This is mainly because in the nearly 70 years that he was making images, he continually branched out, experimenting with different subjects, styles and techniques. “He was a real geek,” says Fiammetta. “Anything new, he would immediately want to try.” Such eclecticism had its drawbacks. “Some questioned my sincerity,” Horvat said in 2015. “Some found my photos hard to recognize, like they were from 15 different authors.”
Horvat’s own mother berated him for his career choice. “She adored him, and she supported him financially until he found his feet,” Fiammetta says, “but they argued a lot and she was very critical of what she called his chasing after idiots. , with empty heads, which was probably true. He was always in love.”