Days of la dolce vita: Claude Nori’s images of Italians on holiday

The French-Italian photographer captures people soaking in the sensuality of Mediterranean beaches

Sun, sea, sand and summer love: French photographer Claude Nori’s evocative images perfectly capture la dolce vita of an Italian holiday.

Inspired by childhoods spent at the seaside with his Italian émigré parents along the Adriatic and Mediterranean coasts, Nori set out to capture the seasonal rituals: the passion of a summer romance; the fun and games; the beaches and bikinis, and most of all the sensuality, exuberance and insouciance of youth.

His photographs, published in a new book called Italian Holidays, are framed to give the static moment a dynamic, cinematic feel. Seeing the young woman on a Vespa, you can hear the purr of the scooter and the gentle flap of the rider’s white skirt in the sea breeze, smell the perfumed and bronzed skin of the hopeful teenage lovers, taste the gelato and hear the beach jukebox.

“Everyone loves Italy, the beach, the sea, the joie de vivre,” says Nori, speaking on the telephone. “I was there taking photos at a wonderful time, the 80s and 90s. There was no internet, no mobile phones and photography was still mythical.

“These photos are not reportage – there is a certain staging, an ambience of dreams. I’m telling a story of myself, a Frenchman of Italian origins who went back to the beach he used to go to with his parents and seeks what he loved from that time. This is not the Italy of tourists, it’s not the Italy of monuments or museums. I wanted to show a side of Italy you don’t see very often.”

Rimini, 1995.
Rimini, 1995. Photograph: Claude Nori

Nori’s love affair with Italy started early. “Every summer in the 1960s, we would load our luggage into my father’s blue Simca Elysée and drive to the Italian Adriatic beaches and sometimes the Mediterranean ones,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “We left Toulouse early in the morning in order to arrive in the evening before sunset for our first swim. My parents preferred the seaside resorts next to Rimini or Riccione, where prices were still affordable. My mother said the sea there was bluer than anywhere else.”

The way of life made a lasting impression on him. “The dolce far niente (“sweet doing-nothing”), sand, sea, sky, the pretty girls in bathing suits, skin’s sensuality offered to the sun, large tables bringing families together, bodies in all shapes and forms and the Vespas always present in the set. I’m sure I became a photographer so that I could prolong this adolescence with impunity.”

Nori began his career in the early 1970s in Paris with small jobs from advertising agencies and magazines. But he kept being drawn back to Italy, and he and his friend Luigi Ghirri, the Italian artist and photographer whose Kodachrome images inspired Nori’s work, travelled the Italian coastal roads in a battered old Volkswagen.

Catania, Sicily, 1998.
Catania, Sicily, 1998. Photograph: Claude Nori

For the next four decades, Nori photographed Italian summers in the venues and bathing resorts of Rimini, Capri, Amalfi, Catania, Rapallo and Portofino. A first book of around 60 photographs, L’Été Dernier, was published in 1983. A second book, Un Été Italien, followed in 2001 and sold out within a few months.

Italian Holidays contains “remastered and modernised” photographs from the 2001 book along with some new, previously unseen images. “My editor found one of the previous books in a store and thought the photographs would interest a new audience of young people,” says Nori. “These images are in a way eternal. This is like remastering a music album.”

Most of these photographs, taken in the 1980s, are in Nori’s preferred black and white, to conjure up the Italian neorealism of the 60s and 70s. At the time, he would switch between his plastic autofocus Canon and a Single-8 film camera. “It’s about the approach, it’s about the aesthetic – framing the moment like it’s in a film,” he told i-D magazine in 2015. “In a way, I was making movies by way of still photographs.”

While often deeply personal, Nori’s photos are a world away from today’s selfies, an obsession about which he is scathing. “Digital has swept away the mystery of the exposed yet undeveloped image,” he says. “Cellphones and hybrid devices  have trivialised and broken the spell of the photographic process. It has become difficult to simply take a picture in the streets, on the move; mistrust is now present everywhere because of social networks. As soon as they are taken, these images move anarchically along on the internet. People prefer to avoid a photographer yet take multiple selfies, a phone with a camera at the end of an articulated arm whose wide-angle lens disfigures their portrait.”

Rimini, 1983
Rimini, 1983 Photograph: Claude Nori

“Looking back and observing my Italian adventure,” he writes in the new book, “I am aware of having photographed a privileged territory at a time that was particularly happy and carefree. I had the chance to witness this happiness while trying to capture these images of adolescence that we preserve deep inside ourselves.”

Italian Holidays by Claude Nori is published by Sturm & Drang (£43)


Kim Willsher

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A new Scumb Manifesto: the woman who’s reworking the photography canon
Photographer Justine Kurland has sliced and collaged images from 150 renowned books by white male photographers from Brassaï to Stephen Shore. She explains why

Sean O’Hagan

23, Apr, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
Reflections on mortality: Alessandra Sanguinetti on her ​eerie images of the midwest
Inspired by a cult 1970s book, the Magnum photographer travelled to Wisconsin to create an eerie and timeless portrait of rural America

Killian Fox

18, Sep, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
Where the wild things are: Alys Tomlinson’s portraits of island traditions
British photographer Alys Tomlinson explores faith and community in her austere and unsettling portraits of the ancient folk characters of Sicily and Sardinia

Sean O’Hagan

20, Aug, 2022 @3:00 PM

Article image
‘It goes into your psyche’: photographing gunshot survivors in the US
Inspired by her own experience, photographer Kathy Shorr documented the survival stories of 101 victims of US gun violence

Kathryn Bromwich, Interviews by Flora Carr

15, Apr, 2017 @3:00 PM

Article image
Photographer Graciela Iturbide: ‘I notice the pain as well as the beauty’
Iturbide’s images of her native Mexico, exploring religion, ritual and unexpected surprises, are showcased in a new book and exhibition

Jo Tuckman

23, Feb, 2019 @3:00 PM

Article image
The car’s the scar: photographs of US veterans’ interior lives
ML Casteel’s images of the clutter in ex-servicemen’s vehicles offer a powerful metaphor for the enduring psychological impact of warfare

Sean O'Hagan

10, Mar, 2018 @6:00 PM

Article image
Gregory Halpern’s ZZYZX – California dreamin’ in the 21st century
The photographer’s new work exploits the golden state’s unique light to create his mysterious images of people and place

Sean O'Hagan, captions by Gregory Halpern

15, Oct, 2016 @4:30 PM

Article image
Another side of Amy Winehouse: intimate photographs by her friend Blake Wood
Blake Wood’s previously unseen photographs reveal a natural, more carefree side to the troubled singer

Tim Lewis

30, Jun, 2018 @3:00 PM

Article image
‘Something magical happens’: the cameras helping refugee children to heal
We talk to the person behind an extraordinary project in Turkey, where children, most of them refugees, have been given old analogue cameras and taught the art of photography

Sean O’Hagan

19, Sep, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
In the trees with 90s ecowarriors: Olivia Laing on Janine Wiedel’s protest photos
The bestselling author, who joined the protest camp documented in the photographer’s new book, argues its spirit is more vital than ever

Olivia Laing

13, Aug, 2023 @11:00 AM