Arimondi 1942-2001

photographer - model - friend

Arimondi: from Vogue to Homeless - 20 Years of Philosophy in USA

at Muddy Waters Café, 5211 Valencia at 16th Street, San Francisco, January 1999   

by Lionel A. Biron    

The title of Arimondi's exhibition, curated by the photographer himself, is short on textual information -- no pretentious statement of purpose, no biography, and no cards to explain the work. Yet the organization and structure of this 20 year retrospective clearly reveal themselves.

The photographs in the front room are divided into the following three sequence: two fashion photos including an I. Magnin ad for Italian shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo that appeared in VOGUE magazine in January 1981; two photos showing people surrounded by flowers and personal articles suggesting a photographic equivalent of the AIDS quilt; and finally, some brightly colored photographs of clown drawings including one which reads: "This is one of my Homeless Clowns that I've been drawing since 1983." Immediately, the tone is established by this unexpected juxtapositioning of subject matter.

On the same wall in the backroom, a series of 10 brightly colored still-life images that combine natural elements such as leaves, flowers, and fruits with sardine tins, and an MGM poster card of Gretta Garbo and Robert Taylor in the film "Le Roman de Marguerite Gauthier." Well constructed compositions exploding with color and suggestiveness.

On the left side of the backroom is the logical end to the exhibition with two series run together: the first, showing men at work -- construction workers in the streets of San Francisco -- two of them bare-chested climbing and shoveling. These images are direct without the least hint of contrivance as one might well expect from a fashion photographer. And the second series, seven simple black-framed 8x10 photographs in his recent San Francisco Homeless series showing six men and one woman.

Again, using no photographic gimmicks, these powerful mainly individual head shots of the homeless in their natural surroundings -- the Streets of San Francisco -- are presented honestly without the least hint of irony. One younger man, like the ones we have become all too accustomed to seeing in any street in the City, holds up an old piece of battered cardboard which reads like a poem or mantra: "Homeless and Help Any Help will Help. God Bless."

It is the final photograph is this series which sums it all up and provides one of the most compelling statement regarding Homelessness: The Portrait of Ivy Nicholsson with Arimondi's notation within the frame of this matted masterpiece: "even famous high fashion models become HOMELESS!" What makes this portrait particularly poignant is a magazine cut-out, angled in the left-hand corner, inside the frame, which bears the model's name and shows a beautiful, gloved Nicholsson draped in an elegant leopard skin trimmed overcoat -- probably from the late 70's -- that contrasts dramatically with the elderly, modestly dressed, proud woman in Arimondi's recent portrait. The 20 year circle from Fashion to Homelessness is now complete.

Arimondi's message is stated eloquently and directly through the photographs themselves. Go see for yourself and please don't take my word as a substitute for the experience of these enchanting images.