Obituary: Michel Molinari

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The Independent Online
When Willie Landels, the long-standing editor of Harper's & Queen, said to Norman Parkinson, "You are the great English fashion photographer", Parkinson replied, "What about Michel?" Michel Molinari was the great English fashion photographer of his period. His intense, moody portrait photographs of the mid-Fifties to the early Seventies achieved a startling intimacy with his models.

Before the onset of popular realism, with Tatler, Harper's Bazaar, Queen and Harper's & Queen magazines during the Fifties and Sixties, Molinari displayed a classical awareness in his fluent style of reportage. His international photojournalism incorporated the best from the style capitals of that genre - Florence, Paris and London. But his eye surpassed boundaries.

Born in London, in Soho, on the Fourth of July, he grew up in his family's coastal home in Ventimiglia by the Italo-French border and went to school in Bordighera; he knew well that his father, a Lancia racing driver, sped through these mere divisions in international rallies. With his old-fashioned fine manners and quite original eccentricity, Molinari eluded nationality, yet he retained a European courtesy and an English indifference - notably with German art directors.

Molinari's was a singular flair, instinctive and selfless like the laugh he breathed. He always bore unexpected gifts. On the last boat to England before the outbreak of war, at the age of 15, he brought precious eggs. To India, with his regiment the Bengal Lancers, he brought a library of poetry to be read in the scorched plains.

His sisters had been his first photographic models. Molinari's photography is more redolent of Cartier-Bresson than Avedon or Penn. It presents it as it is. By using the full tonal range, his work has a sensitivity to nuance with an inventivenss of design. Photography was never an occupation, but a process involved with looking, with peering. It was never artifice. Questioned in a lecture he gave on portraiture at the Royal College of Art, he said it was not the lens that needed to be closer to the subject, but the eye. It was simple: "Walk forward." Molinari himself walked forward. He sensed people; they in return sensed this and thus relaxed in his presence. With this insight - an indefinable grace - he showed you more.

Molinari's generous and open hospitality, like all the teak and bricolage at his house in Goodwood, in Sussex, and the still quality of his humour, was overwhelming. His Scandinavian furniture, his eye for line, his profuse gifts of flowers, poetry, chocolate, defined his sensibility, his natural humanity. In his annual feast at Moira's Restaurant in Soho he sat in the centre of tables formed in a square so he might talk to teach of his individual guests. Molinari's silent largesse affected you.

Michel Molinari was a romantic and had had his trials. He knew the poetry of de Nerval, he often spoke of Villon and Byron, but, with his beloved wife Sara and the birth of their adored son Jonangelo, he achieved a freedom like the comet that adorned the skies during his death on the first day of spring.

Henry Virgin

Michael Angelo Molinari, photographer: born London 4 July 1923; married Sara Bowman (one son); died London 21 March 1997.