Since the fall of the French army ay Dien Bien Phu, the western press tried unsuccessfully to enter North Vietnam.
The distinguished journalist James Cameron and I where the first non.communist correspondents to obtain an entry-visa in November 1965. Photography was under heavy censorship.
At the presidential Palace in Hanoi, the legendary Ho Chi Minh refused to be photographed.
I said to the President that people sensitive to justice in the west would have loved to see him in such a good health.
He told me that I was an optimist, that optimists make good revolutionaries and I could photograph him.
WAR PHOTOGRAPHED IN LARGE FORMAT
A war fought mainly with artillery was destroying a great deal of decent architecture, lovely old buildings and parts of well-preserved attractive towns.
I had to show the beauty and the history of the architecture to communicate even more the sorry state of its destruction.
Only with a large format camera would I obtain ultra sharp photographs, control the convergence of the lines etc…
The aim was to have technically perfect architecture photographs of war-damaged sites intending a disconcerting effect.
After publication in “Stern” I received the Art Director Club of Germany’s bronze medal.
On this page, two stories: Sarajevo children for “ Bunte” and 14 pages in “Epoca”. I would like to write a few notes about the refugees’ story in “Epoca”.
Successive visits improved my knowledge of the conflict; at a certain point Yugoslavia had about 3 million displaced persons, a great exodus with respect to the numbers reported in the evening news. Refugees are never given a precise identity. I had to find a way to show their individuality.
In their hour of flight, most of them take a blanket and a loaf of bread, but I went to look for the ones who took objects which they felt had spiritual significance for them, things for their minds, symbols to affirm their right to life, not only fugitive numbers.
A Studio on the Front Line. Jan. 1995
Few and badly armed Chechens were resisting the powerful Russian army and air force.
During the first attacks on Grozny, they destroyed about 200 Russian tanks by launching dynamite taped to hand grenades at them, conquering the world’s sympathy.
These were people who had suffered massive deportations by Stalin; great writers like Tolstoi, Lermentov, Puskin wrote enticing stories about them.
Patricia and I were fascinated by such men and decided to set up a mobile studio with flash lights in Grozny during the fighting.
The Red Army in Afghanistan
Clandestine photographs, Sunday Times text :”Photographer Romano Cagnoni took this picture of Russian armoured cars in Afghanistan through a bus windscreen.
Using a concealed camera in a country where western newsmen are banned, he has produced dramatic pictures wich reveal the tense reality of life high in the mountains and down on the city streets. Wherever the Afghans turn they are amidst the occupying forces.
The Red Army in Poland
Clandestine photographs (stealthy photographs)
The first time the Red Army was photographed during their long Polish occupation.
Polish security ordered me to leave the country. At the airport I was thoroughly searched; the police took all my films,
but what they didn’t know was that I had given the ones with the right photographs to a Swedish colleague who sent them to me in London from Stockholm. A few years later Time-Life asked the Poles for a visa for me to photograph the country for a book.
The authorities answered that they could send anyone but me, Romano Cagnoni.
A Six Day War or a War Forever?
Since 1970 I have visited the “Land” many times. Once I photographed a story on the 50 th anniversary of the foundation of the state of Israel.
Another time I had an assignment from the Palestinian Authority for an editorial advertising Palestinian Entity to be published in “Newsweek”.
It is now gone almost 40 years and I feel peace, is biblical years away.
The photograph in the “Times” of the pregnant woman was later requested by the art historian R.H. Wilenski to be published it in his book “English Painting” edited by Faber&Faber.
It is the only photograph in a book illustrated with hundreds of reproductions of paintings; I expressed my surprise to Mr. Wilenski who wrote:….”the photograph where the foreground posts take on anthropomorphic meaning in relation to the pregnant woman, we can see why so many intelligent creative painters now recognize the enemy’s conquests
in the romantic and dramatic as well as the descriptive field and confine themselves to aesthetic rethinking and rebuilding”
For quite some years I contributed to different magazines. Photographing mainly cultural events,
I therefore met a good number of remarkable people. One of the most distinguished was my wife, seen here in “The Arts” of the “Sunday Times”. Berenice was a great painter, an excellent writer and a good critic of my work as well as great help.
An asthma attack took her way in 1983. The cutting of my photograph of Mark Rothko who looks towards her is meant to indicate her love for his work. Or vice versa, she would have said.
Theatre is a unique form of art; it unfolds simultaneously for the maker and for whoever might consume it.
I consider myself lucky to have spent a number of days photographing Joan Littlewood’s musical “Oh what a lovely war”.
I believe it to be a great innovative piece of theatre.I provided the photographs for a 24- page souvenir programme and about 40 enlargements mounted on aluminium which were exhibited on the front of the house.
I included my press credits from the “Observer” and “Corriere della Sera “for a press visa request to the apartheid South African Embassy.I had in mind to photograph prosperous white South Africans (with a large number of servants etc. which would have conveyed what sort of society it was). The visa was taking a long time to arrive, so I decided to go without it. After two months of satisfying work I returned to Europe to learn from the Embassy that the visa had been refused. The story was published in many countries. The “Corriere” magazine printed 36 pages.
The stories on this page are: Deforestation in the Sahel commissioned by “The Photographers Gallery” also printed by “Epoca”; Famine in Africa; 80th birthday of Emperor Haille Selasié of Ethiopia (thanks to writer Anthony Sampson who helped me with the access to the Emperor’s private life); U.S.A. electronic communications in Turkey, part of a story on the Kurds.
For ominous stories on drugs and emeralds which I shot in Columbia, friends started to call me “the adventurer”. It could be very dangerous, if one was lucky enough to find a good emerald but was unlucky enough to be seen, or talked too much about the drug dealers, etc. It was risky in very different ways to the war situations I had experienced; equally tough though, to crawl in long tunnels about 3 feet in diameter to reach a rock with the emerald’s vein.