Frank Horvat is the walking, talking epitome of the master photographer, as he stands like a colossus bestriding the history of modern photography; and for anyone interested in the art form he represents everything that is great about it.
He was born in 1928, in Abbazia, Italy which is now part of Croatia. His parents, both doctors, moved to Switzerland when he was eleven and he spent the rest of his formative years there. At the age of fifteen he swapped his stamp collection for his first 35mm Retinamat camera and never looked back.
After moving back to Italy in 1947, Horvat studied art at the Accademia di Brera and soon after this he began work for an advertising agency. He purchased his first professional camera, a Rolleicord twin lens reflex and began freelancing for Italian magazines as well as shooting his first documentary pictures. During this period, at the age of 22, he visited Paris and quickly sought out the leading lights of photography: Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa. Over the next few years Horvat freelanced, travelling extensively; visiting Pakistan and India, and living in Lahore for around six months, where he worked in a local advertising agency whilst also taking photographs on ‘spec’ for the European market.
In 1954 he moved to London, working for both Life and Picture Post, reporting and recording life on the streets of Britain.
In 1955 he moved to Paris where he has lived pretty much ever since. It was in 1957 that Horvat began working for the top fashion magazines including Elle, Jardin Des Modes and Vogue, quickly consolidating an enviable reputation for stylish pictures which utilised the streets and landmarks of Paris. Frank would often pose his models in curious situations alongside characters from the streets and countryside surrounding the capital.
Throughout his life Frank Horvat has been a restless soul and has always sought new experiences and subject matter for his camera. Between 1958 and 1961 he returned to the home of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa and began work as an associate photographer for the Magnum photographic agency.
During the sixties and seventies his assignments for the top fashion and lifestyle magazines enabled him to work all over the world, fuelling his natural curiosity and wanderlust and enabling him to complete personal projects and follow his passions. Along the way he managed to master numerous languages becoming fluent in many.
With the coming of digital technology Horvat not only embraced the new medium but also managed to master it better than most, utilizing it to manipulate his photographs and creating imaginative images which blurred the line between art and photography. The best examples of this are to be found in Bestiarium and Chimerae.
Frank Horvat’s career is unusual in that it spans the history of modern photography, and not only that, but over the years, he has mastered most styles and photographic genres, competing with and often surpassing the work of the world’s best photographers in their fields. The list of his contemporaries and close friends over the years reads like a veritable Who’s Who of photography. He remains, a living legend, having shared the stage with other world class photographers such as Édouard Boubat, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Richard Avedon, David Bailey, Terence Donovan, Josef Koudelka, Robert Doisneau, Jeanloup Sieff and Helmut Newton.
To mark the passing of the new millennium Horvat decided to make a daily photo journal of the preceding year; a year that would see him travel around Europe meeting old friends and new, reporting from all over the continent, and continually returning to his beloved country retreat “La Véronique” in Provence and his family. It was also a year that would see him record the passing of a dear friend and fellow photographer Édouard Boubat. 1999, A Daily Report is a moving record of a year in the life of a true artist.
Today Frank continues to work hard and is busier than ever, mounting exhibitions and taking on commissions with a work ethic that would destroy someone half his age. His career reflects myriad styles, genres and artistic heights spanning generations, creating a body of work which is unsurpassed in terms of scope, imagination and quality. His latest venture has seen him adapt his extensive website and archive “Horvatland”, featuring hundreds of photographs from 1945 to the present day, interviews with his contemporaries and extensive biographical information, and present it as an iPad application, making his work accessible for a whole new generation to enjoy.
The Horvat philosophy on photography has always been economy. When shooting film he often allowed himself the luxury of only two or three rolls of film on a particular assignment. This encouraged him to wait for the perfect moment; the key here was to prepare and plan before the shot. As he says on his website tag-line “Photography is the art of not pushing the button.”
I asked him recently what he had planned for the year ahead and if he had any unfulfilled ambitions. His answer was unsurprising for a man who is still so passionate about his art:
“I have about twenty times more projects than I will be able to fulfil in the time that is left to me. To begin with, with my present iPad application, and with other iPad applications that I am thinking of. Then with writing on a major project which I have been working on for several years, and that may never get completed. Then in photography, where I feel that I have only just begun to explore the possibilities of compact digital cameras.”
He finished with a comment which illustrates for me his endless appetite for photography, his lust for life and his exemplary work ethic:
“If you know a way of getting a lease for a new life – or at least for a couple of decades – please tell me.”
Visit Frank Horvat’s site at www.horvatland.com
For the iPad app visit: