Silvana Mangano - François-Marie Banier

Silvana Mangano, her black eyes, that never-ending nose, that cruel beauty – how to capture that astral presence? How to show her without betraying her depth and her elegance? Like the ocean, like the pyramids, like the moon reflected in the waters of a mountain stream, Silvana Mangano is beyond words.

She laughs when a man summons up the courage to come up and tell her that when he goes home late at night and his wife is up waiting for him, has been waiting maybe all night, and sometimes a whole month, there is one compliment that will make her forget her bitterness: “You are more beautiful than Silvana Mangano.”

Bitter Rice, Mambo, The Gold of Naples, Oedipus Rex, Death in Venice, Theorem, Conversation Piece, Le Streghe – I used to repeat the titles of her films, going through a scene in my memory, to remind myself that she was an actress.

For the portraitist, intimacy with one’s model is a trap. But how can you keep away from a magnet? How can you step back to take her photo? She rocks you like a child, is there like a liana. Up close all you can do is smell her tuberose perfume and her white, white skin. What lens should one choose for this unique planet?

She had chosen me as a son before Federico went on that plane trip to Alaska and never came back, and found me really awkward when I got out my camera in front of her – so far from any thoughts of reproducing an ineffable beauty. Always deep in thought, she knew that a flat image can give only a vague idea of life and will fail to capture our hopes and regrets, our suffering and our laughter. Except for this bond: you and me.

In order to work myself up to taking her photo, I had set myself a single objective: her nose.

No portrait has ever satisfied me less. She took me somewhere else, into a beyond that photography can hardly even suggest.

Beckett, with his Giacometti-like silhouette, inscribed verticals in the window. A teeming of ridges. The graphics of that semaphore were as simple as lightning in the sky. Silvana was like the whole sky dancing. I hesitated for six years before photographing her. My fascination was too strong.

Silvana Mangano

by François-Marie Banier


This text was written by François-Marie Banier, published by Gallimard on the occasion of the release of the exhibition catalog François-Marie Banier which took place at Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris from the 26th of March until the 15th of June 2003.


Photo: Silvana au voile de face, 1984, by François-Marie Banier