Guido Harari

Art Kane, We the People, 1961. «Look» © Art Kane Archive

I was fifteen years old. Since I was a child I had toyed around with my father’s Zeiss Ikon and, who knows, perhaps I was already dreaming of laying my eyes on the icons of rock music that I admired on record sleeves and in those rare books and magazines from England and America. All of a sudden, from the pages of magazines like «Photo» and «Popular Photography», I was struck by the cry of Art Kane. A cry of enthusiastic, intoxicating vitality. His images tore down photography from the galleries only to catapult it into the collective imagination, branding his own highly personal view of modernity onto it in the process. His were visions that rose up from the street, starting from that Harlem sidewalk packed with all those jazz stars. Certainly Kane, the most punk of contemporary photographers, was quick to clarify his philosophy: “You put your life into your pictures, no matter what you’re doing it for”. But he was a godsend for those, like me, who in the early ‘70s , were trying to hit on a passion, a destiny, a vocation.

Kane’s gaze and thought worked their way into my Dna at the time when I was starting out as a photographer, and there it stayed, forever. Then, around 2000, I was taken over by an unstoppable frenzy. I looked up Kane’s family members via their website and asked why there was such an inexplicable gap: there was no complete monograph of his work. I got a polite answer from writer Holly Anderson, the wife of Art’s son, musician Jonathan Kane, who explained how they had rejected offers from several publishers to do single subject collections of Art’s work: a music book, fashion book, nudes etc. but Art Kane’s legacy meant more than any of those categories to them so they were holding out for a comprehensive overview. Then something started turning, and serendipity added a little spin. When in 2011 I decided to launch my Wall Of Sound Gallery, a gallery dedicated to photography and musical imagery, I immediately decided to pay tribute to my maestro, and recontacted the Kanes, proposing an exhibition. I was keen to present not only the music icons captured by Kane – the Who, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Cream, Frank Zappa, Jefferson Airplane – but also the images that had changed the course of photography and popular culture, like We the People, With God on our Side and Songs of Freedom.

Since in the meantime Wall Of Sound had been geared up for fine art printing, aiming among other things to recoup and restore forgotten and unknown archives, I suggested that Holly might like to come and visit us in Italy, in Alba, with some of Art’s original transparencies. We would then scan them, restore them and print them, some for the very first time. Being able to study Kane’s originals close up, especially his famous ‘sandwiches’ just as he himself had laid them out, and bring them back with careful restoration to their former glory was an indescribable experience of learning and discovery.

In 2012 the exhibition Art Kane. Pictures from a Visionary Photographer was a great success and was previewed at the MIA (Milan Image Art Fair) in Milan. Thanks to a miraculous chain reaction, Kane’s return had begun. I immediately touched base with Andrea Gambetta of Solares Fondazione delle Arti in Parma, proposing an upgrade of our gallery show to present in museums throughout the world. Tony Nourmand, of London’s Reel Art Press publishing house, was offered the Kane book project at Book Expo America in New York City and bravely snapped up the chance as the first publisher to truly connect with the family’s vision of what an Art Kane monograph needed to be and with the commitment to get it done. Around the same time Andrea received the enthusiastic approval of the exhibition project from Marco Pierini, the then director of Galleria Civica di Modena. 

As chance would have it (but chance does not exist, as is clearly shown here) Modena is also home to Franco Fontana – the internationally renowned photographer who also happened to be a very close friend of Art Kane – who could hardly believe it when he was told that the first world show on the great American visionary would take off in his hometown. One last magical coincidence: Art Kane. Visionary will open exactly on the 90th anniversary of Kane’s birth and the 20th anniversary of his passing. Never has there been a better timing than this.