Sixty Years at the World’s Most Famous Pool.
Johnny Pigozzi is currently having an exhibition of photographs titled Johnny’s Pool at the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue in New York, and in early May Rizzoli will publish his book with the title Pool Party with a foreword by Bono.
Is “Johnny” your nom de plume?
On my passport my name is Giovanni. I had an English nanny who called me Johnny. My name is Jean, and many people call me Pigozzi.
Have you been a photographer almost all your life?
Yes, I started at ten with a simple camera, and when I was eleven I got an old Leica from my father. It was difficult to use, but when he died soon after I inherited his new Leica and I used it for years. And now I have just got another new Leica, a digital Leica M9.
Do you always use a Leica?
Never an iPhone?
What kind of a photographer are you?
Not a professional, not a paparazzo, not a portrait photographer; just a good amateur.
Who are the photographers that inspired you most?
My masters are Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Are your photographs the diary of your life?
Yes, I am dyslexic and I cannot read my own handwriting. This is really horrible, and so I take photographs.
Mostly of people you know?
Pictures of friends and girlfriends of course, but also people at parties, or travelling, or in the street. Every day I take pictures. I always have a camera and if I go somewhere that I am not allowed to take a picture it’s very frustrating.
The images at the Gagosian Gallery and in the book all take place at the same swimming pool. Where is this swimming pool?
The swimming pool is at a house that my father built in 1953, in Cap d’Antibes on the Côte d’Azur.
Why this obsession with the swimming pool?
I spend two or three months a year sitting around this pool every day. Pilots are on a plane, doctors are in an operating theatre, bankers are in a bank, and I stay around a pool. The swimming pool is somehow the centre of my activities during the months I stay there.
In the book there are pictures of you as a child, and then of you over the years, and also of very well-known people?
There are also less famous people who come to visit me. People come as guests, mainly for lunch during the Cannes Film Festival or during the summer months.
There are lots of pictures of Mick Jagger, Helmut Newton and other stars?
Unfortunately Helmut is dead, and I hope that Mick will like the pictures when he sees the book, but I never publish pictures that can hurt.
Why did you ask Bono to write the introduction to your book?
He has been a friend all my life and been around the pool in my house in Antibes many, many times. I thought he would be the right person.
Are you attracted by celebrities, like Andy Warhol who was himself one of your friends?
They are famous for a reason. Businessmen like Jimmy Goldsmith or Gianni Agnelli, famous beautiful people like Naomi Campbell or Elle Macpherson, actresses like Elizabeth Taylor or Jane Fonda, there is a reason why you become a celebrity. In America a serial killer can become a celebrity. I am not interested in that, I am interested in intelligent people like David Geffen, or Calvin Klein, or Woody Allen, and others like that.
Are you a celebrity yourself?
A minor, local celebrity.
This is the second time you are showing at the Gagosian Gallery in New York?
For me it’s a great honour to have a second show at Gagosian. The first one went well and we sold many of the photographs; and for this exhibition we have already sold quite a few.
Are your photographs expensive?
They cost $3,500. Of course Gagosian sells paintings for over $30 million. I am very happy to be there, as much as I am very happy about the book. A lot of photography books are vanity projects, often sponsored or financed, but in my case Rizzoli took a chance. We don’t yet know how it will sell.
You are an eclectic man, a collector, a businessman, a designer?
What I try to do is to do many things as well as possible. The clothing business was not a success I must admit, but I have done well in hi-tec investments. I also built the largest, and I can really say the best, collection of contemporary African art. It took me twenty-five years to do it, a long complicated process.
Where is your collection?
Mainly stored in Switzerland, but I am in the process of realising a museum in an unexpected city, a secret for now. I have also another collection that is five or six years old, of very young contemporary Japanese artists.
Why Africa and then Japan?
Africa was a subject where nobody was interested. I went to a show in Paris over twenty years ago, Les Magiciens de la Terre, and I fell in love with this art. So I hired André Magnin and together we built the collection.
And what about Japan?
I became friends with Haruki Murakami and he asked me to go to Japan where he showed me a few artists. In this case I did it alone, without a curator. Next year we might have a show in Turin at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo.
You also spent a lot of time on your boat which was designed by Ettore Sottsass, your favourite designer?
I was curious to go everywhere, from New Zealand to the Black Sea, to Japan, to India, to Alaska, to Papua New Guinea, to Australia, to Bali and many other places.
What was it like, living on a boat?
An extraordinary experience. It is interesting, when you come on land you go through the port and you meet strange people. You visit places and meet people all day, and at night I came back to my cocoon, the boat, where I could work on my email and read the papers and work on my computers. It is a very interesting way of travelling, but I sold my boat two days ago.
What are you going to do now that you have sold the boat?
Now I am concentrating on an island that I own in Panama, where I have a lab and we do marine research. I live there for three months in the winter.
There has been a lot of trouble in Panama lately.
Yes, but I live in the jungle. I have nothing to do with crooked Panamian lawyers.
Your life is very special.
I know nobody who has a life like mine. One of the reasons I can live like this is because of technology. In the middle of the jungle I can get the same information as someone who lives in Tokyo or New York.
Where is home for you?
There is no home. Home is where I can plug my computer, a hotel room in Tokyo, my house in Panama, my apartment in Geneva or the swimming pool in Antibes, it’s all the same. I learned how to live and be comfortable everywhere, I don’t have to be rooted because of technology. If you are a researcher you have to work in a lab somewhere, if you are a dentist you have to work by your cabinet, but in my case I can be anywhere.
How would you describe yourself?
I hope I am like nobody else. Because of technology I can do many things at the same time in different places, and that could not happen ten years ago.
Are you still collecting friends all over the world?
I am always meeting new people. Years ago I was always the youngest in meetings, now I am by far the oldest. One has to keep on being extremely curious, otherwise if you stop you check out.
Who were your mentors?
My father, who died when I was twelve, and then I had many other mentors: Jimmy Goldsmith, Ahmet Ertegun, Gianni Agnelli, Ettore Sottsass and perhaps Helmut Newton. Sadly they are all gone.
Is Pool Party a homage to your father and your mentors?
Yes, all of them are in my exhibition and in my book. Photography is one of the main things in my life. What I can also say is what I am not interested in. I am not interested in politics, in classical music, in literature. I don’t read poetry, I am not particularly interested in food, I don’t drink or take drugs, and I could not care less about sports and I don’t practice them.
Are you a sort of renaissance person in a modern way?
Yes, a digital renaissance man.
But still with a Leica?
A digital Leica. I don’t read papers or magazines anymore, everything is digital, and I like it because it gives me freedom and I am not stuck somewhere.
You have not been stuck so much.
It’s true, I am not even married and I don’t have children. I am of course not against it, I like being and meeting with young people. Nowadays my friends are half my age, before they were double my age.
Enjoy this interview? Share it with your friends.
Portrait of Jean Pigozzi © Brett Ratner
All images © and courtesy of Jean Pigozzi