Obituary: Michel Molinari

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea