When we think of Le Corbusier, we tend to think of him in black and white. The monolithic Radiant City, the clean lines of Villa Savoye, even the photographs of Corb himself, lecturing students through the thick lenses of his spectacles--the severe rhetoric of the era seems to lend itself to greys.
So these rarely published color photographs of Le Corbusier, spotted on Uncube, are a lovely surprise. They were shot in 1953 by Willy Rizzo, the Italian photographer best known for his images of European chanteuses like Brigitte Bardot. Rizzo ran three of the photos in a 1954 issue of Paris Match, but they were never published again. Now, thanks to a joint exhibit by Rizzo and Fondation le Corbusier that opened on September 19th at Le Corbusier’s Maison La Roche, the photographs have reemerged.
Rizzo shot the 66-year-old architect in a few locations around Paris. He accompanied Le Corbusier to the Musée National d’Art Moderne, where a show of his paintings was being hung, photographing him as he posed amidst his own work. Other images were taken in Le Corb’s apartment, where he’s captured pouring espresso, or turning to look at Rizzo while seated at his drafting table. One fantastic image shows Le Corb sitting in front of a blackboard, where he’s sketched Unité d’Habitation--completed the previous year--in section, complete with a smiling yellow chalk sun.
Maybe it’s the color, or maybe it’s the knowledge that he was in the midst of his most controversial, large-scale project, Chandigarh, but he looks oddly vulnerable. “These photographs also show us a less familiar face of Le Corbusier,” write the exhibit curators. “We get the feeling that he willingly let himself be told what to do during these encounters, readily complying with the photographer’s demands. We see him by turns smiling and relaxed, posing like a film star, playing the artist in a private role or at other moments seeming anxious.”
In the 75 years since they were shot, Le Corbusier--and his iconic visage--have been codified as symbols of Modernism itself. Even the way we talk about him now, as Le Corbusier, refers to an idea as much as a person. Captured 12 years before he drowned in the Mediterranean at his beloved summer home, Rizzo’s photographs give us a glimpse of the pre-sainted man--aka Charles-Édouard Jeanneret.