The Milan Triennale (10 May–3 July 2011) is holding a large exhibition of the work of Michel Comte. Curated by Walter Keller with the title "Michel Comte. Crescendo fotografico", the exhibition retraces the career of one of the best contemporary fashion and portrait photographers.
Born in Zurich in 1954, Michel Comte taught himself the art of photography. In 1978, Karl Lagerfeld discovered his enormous talent and decided to run the risk of inviting him to create the advertising campaigns for the fashion houses of Ungaro and Chloé. These were his first international jobs and turned out to be a great success. Comte then moved to Paris, and later New York, where he began to work for Vogue America.
Nomadic and restless by nature, he then moved to Los Angeles where he decided to stay. When asked why he moved around so much, he promptly replies: "I like to live on the razor's edge. As soon as I feel that I am no longer running any risk in the place that I'm living, I feel the need to move on". His grandfather was an aviator. "I probably inherited my character from him". The actress Geraldine Chaplin, whom Comte has portrayed on several occasions, describes him as follows: "He is an errant knight of photography, a tramp and adventurer, a nomad with a camera".
The exhibition includes 87 images and 20 collages. Each collage is composed of test images taken from various rolls that give an overall vision of the complexity of Comte's work before he is happy with a final shot. The selection of the images in the exhibition provides a broader demonstration of the photographer's work: not just his famous advertising campaigns, but also black-and-white portraits.
They include such famous names as Jeremy Irons, Frank Zappa, Penelope Cruz, Giorgio Armani and Julian Schnabel, amongst others, and reveal a lesser known dimension of the photographer: a sensibility and capacity for introspection. Many of his portraits, like that of the artist Louise Bourgeois, are in large format and improve with the passing of time. The idea of the exhibition is to present photographs that do not simply portray famous personalities, such as musicians and actors, but are representative of the historical period in which they were taken – the 1980s and 90s.
Since the 1980s, Michel Comte has worked on innumerable advertising campaigns for the most important international brands: Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Nike, Versace, Revlon, Lancôme, Hennessy, Swatch, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Ferrari, Jaguar, etc. Thanks to his many commissions, the photographer soon developed his own visual alphabet. In the words of Walter Keller, “He oscillates between highly cinematographic scenes and moments of great intimacy, in which he is able to enter the souls of the human beings in front of his camera lens”.
He has photographed very many famous people for the most important international fashion magazines – the models, clothes designers, artists, actors, musicians and singers who shape the history of society and contemporary costume. But although it is true that the subjects of his portraits and the clients who commission his work are important to the fame of the photographer himself, it is also true that Michel Comte has succeeded, thanks to his talent, in making his name an international brand. As Walter Keller observes, “and it is very decidedly something in the extremely competitive world of showbiz and fashion”.