Renowned Italian Photographer Paolo Di Paolo Dies Aged 98

Renowned Italian photographer Paolo Di Paolo — who captured the glamor of postwar Italy with his camera — has died at the age of 98.

The photographer passed away in his hometown of Larino in Italy on Monday — with his daughter Silvia Di Paolo confirming that he had “arrived at the end of his extraordinary life and left us this morning.”

Di Paolo is considered one of Italy’s greatest reportage photographers, shooting the country amid huge social change as it emerged from fascism in the 1950s to the mid-1960s.

However, much of his huge image archive remained unseen until a chance discovery by his daughter Silvia as she was searching for skis in a family cellar about twenty years ago.

Instead, she stumbled upon a cache of over 250,000 photo negatives, prints, and slides.

When Silvia asked her father, who was by then a professor of history and philosophy, about the photos he was initially reluctant to discuss them.

Eventually, Di Paolo admitted that the photographs — which included black-and-white portraits of Brigitte Bardot, Federico Fellini, Sophia Loren, and Marcello Mastroianni — were all taken by him.

Almost Forgotten Forever

Born in 1925, Di Paolo moved to Rome at the age of 14. Although his artistic abilities initially leaned toward painting, he soon moved toward photography and become one of the country’s top photographers.

Using his compact Leica IIIC camera, Di Paolo documented key figures of Italy’s post-war cultural renaissance for the now-defunct Il Mondo weekly magazine for over 14 years.

According to WWD, some of his most famous images included Italian poet and film director Pier Paolo Pasolini portrayed on the outskirts of Rome, the encounter between actress Gina Lollobrigida and artist Giorgio de Chirico, and Anna Magnani sunbathing in her villa outside Rome.

However, in 1968, a photo editor asked Di Paolo to bring in “some spice” to his images — a byword for a more aggressive style of the paparazzo.

Di Paolo refused to partake in the more scandalous photojournalism of the increasingly prevalent paparazzi and hung up his Leica camera for good.

He retired from photography altogether, placed 250,000 of his images in the basement, and served as art director of the carabinieri, Italy’s regional police force for the next 40 years.

It was not until his daughter Silvia’s accidentally exhumed her father’s photographs in the family’s cellar years later that Di Paolo’s work was revisited.

“Can you imagine my face, when instead of a pair of skis I was looking for in my parents’ home, I found these photos made by my father?” Silvia recalls.

“It took more than twenty years to convince him to show these photos to the world.”

In 2020, Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli invited Di Paolo to Paris to photograph behind-the-scenes at the brand’s fashion show.

And in 2022, renowned photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber explored di Paolo’s life and work in a documentary entitled The Treasure of His Youth: The Photographs of Paolo di Paolo