Travel journalist and leading fashion photographer Frank Horvat, who passed away in 2020, shaped the history of fashion photography. Heir to the work of photographer Frank Horvat, his daughter Fiammetta Horvat discusses the issues related to managing a collection of photographs and her plans to go beyond the mere act of promoting her father’s work by turning his workshop-studio in Boulogne-Billancourt into a living space for photography. Interview.
What was your background before you took on the management of the Frank Horvat Studio?
Fiammetta Horvat : I didn’t follow any kind of academic path. In the late 90s at the age of 18, I went to London where I carved out a career in the theatre as a set designer. Then in 2017 I decided to go back to France due to Brexit. It was at that point that I accepted my father’s offer to work alongside him, and I was lucky enough to shadow him in the final years of his life. They were three wonderful years of collaboration, knowledge-sharing and travel, giving me the keys to speak on his behalf.
How did the Frank Horvat collection come to be?
F. H. : My father was obsessed by the idea of needing to leave a trace and, at the end of his life, devoted a great deal of energy to categorising, writing about and explaining his work. It is rare for heirs to inherit a collection as meticulously ordered, annotated and organised. He also created a property company to preserve the entire collection, equally distributed between five copyright holders, namely my four brothers and myself. While they admire my father’s work, my brothers don’t share the same lived experience, nor the same level of commitment. They gave me free rein to manage the collection, but it’s also vital for me to protect the workshop/house in Boulogne-Billancourt because my father worked there for 40 years and it houses the collection of photographs that he compiled over the course of his career.
Were you approached by public institutions at any point?
F. H. : Not at all. In France there is an entire network of specialised institutions, such as the BNF, the Pompidou Centre, the Médiathèque du Patrimoine et de la Photographie and many more, but copyright holders aren’t approached on an unsolicited basis, and it’s down to you to set the wheels in motion. When I think about how hard it was to get appointments, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be for lesser-known work. It’s also important to mention that my father cut himself off from the world during his final years. With both a sense of restlessness and strong attachment to his freedom, he took on an increasing number of projects and worked around the clock because he knew he was on borrowed time. His high standards left him isolated. Today I’m having to re-establish connections and work hard to win back people’s loyalty.
What were your priorities?
F. H. : To make decisions, you need to understand. So, my main priority was learning about how the photographic medium works. With the help of Sabine Weiss and her incredible assistant Laure Augustin, I approached several copyright holders of photographs and collections to explore the best ways to promote a collection. Every case is different. But you certainly have to take the time to think about a work of art to safeguard its future. I’m lucky that I have this time and that the collection generates enough resources for me to be independent.
What are the Studio Frank Horvat’s main sources of funding?
F. H. : Funding mainly comes from selling images. My father enjoyed international fame, particularly in the fashion industry. From the 1970s onwards, he made the decision to sell 30 signed and numbered prints. His fashion photographs attracted a large clientèle of collectors and generated quite large sums of money to cover the costs of running the studio.
Can copyright holders make posthumous prints?
F. H. : Only the person who has the moral right – in this case me and me alone – can make posthumous prints, provided that the images have never been published. This is why it’s so important to know and respect the deceased artist’s wishes. Under no circumstances can I revert to the numbered prints, but I do have the complete freedom to select unpublished photographs and choose how many copies to publish. There are several collections from my father’s prolific work that I’m going to publish soon, including a very beautiful series dedicated to Hong Kong.
What about books and exhibitions?
F. H. : Publishing opens up the possibility to create some fantastic projects but doesn’t bring anything in terms of revenue. With regard to museum exhibitions like the one at Jeu de Paume, they shine a light on the artist’s work, but they don’t pay much. However, partnerships with fashion houses like those I have entered into with Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Givenchy definitely make more financial sense. In the French cultural sector there is still too often a private/public polemic, whereas sponsors make it possible to work differently and more quickly, without compromising on the need for quality.
What projects do you have in the pipeline to bring the Studio Frank Horvat to life?
F. H. : I don’t just want to be keeper of the flame. I intend for the studio to gain recognition as a reference in the world of photography, a living place for exhibitions, encounters and conversations. To this end, artists have already been invited to interact with my father’s archives. Valérie Belin has worked with striptease photographs, while Anne-Lise Broyer, creator of the Goethe in Sicily series, has worked in partnership with the Albert-Kahn Museum and Garden. The studio is also designed to host emerging artists, and we’re going to exhibit the winner of the 2022 Camera Clara Photo Prize in the spring.
We’re now part of the Paris Photo route and open to collaborating with other organisations to both exhibit and shine a light on my father’s collection, which brings together 500 prints by the leading artists of his time and represents a true manifesto of what photography meant for him.
What are your hopes for the future?
F. H. : To have more resources to safeguard the site’s future and to continue promoting my father’s work. Photojournalism, fashion, landscapes, animals, still life and even digital design – he never stopped experimenting and innovating. I’d like to move beyond fashion and 60s nostalgia to reveal other facets of his work. There’s also all his writing, notebooks and recordings… In the longer term, this heritage collection ought to find its niche within a public institution.