Monday 14 January 2013

Recollections of Gigi Giannuzzi, my publisher

© Cristina Vatielli

Robin Maddock remembers a dear friend and publisher who is no longer with us, Gigi Giannuzzi.

The feeling with Gigi is that you didn’t so much meet him at a precise moment, as hear his voice across a room, or in the summer air at a festival. He would have probably been shouting at someone with his own kind of overblown Italian mock-exasperation, right in their face. You might have seen him glide by on wheeled-heeled trainers, resplendent in a sarong. You might have known him as the only reveller to dip in the pool at the Forum spaghetti party at Les Rencontres d’Arles, when some punk photographer pulled his wet boxers down in front of the global photo community. But really you should know him principally through his incredible list of books, brought out against all the odds and whims of fashion over the last ten years.

But of course I can remember meeting him, working Metro lab’s front desk in July 2003. Just like his books, you didn’t forget him. I knew Open Wound by Stanley Greene, Zona by Carl de Keyzer, Agent Orange by Philip Jones Griffiths, books that are so strong, clearly born of a special collaborative alchemy. So I knew who he was, when he walked in brimming with champagne, happiness and pride. He had just spent the afternoon with Oscar Niemeyer at the Serpentine Pavilion, the catalogue of which he just published. I tried to show him my pictures on rockabillies, which turned his face sour - those right wing red necks just weren’t his thing. Once you understood that flashy design, beauty and especially marketability were secondary to the importance of the social issues, you had a chance of him listening. Those other characteristics could and would follow in his work when felt it right to give them free reign.

My own evening of full initiation into Trolley’s extended family began with a late night opening at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid during PHotoEspaña. After being very forcibly made to kiss Christian Cajoule in front of Guernica, we promptly got thrown out from the newly opened Frank Cappa’s ‘Mexican Suitcase’ room for prostrating ourselves on the floor in melodramatic fevered adulation. Before long he was behind the bar of the most classic cocktail bar in Madrid, demanding they make up a cocktail called a Gigi. He appeared grinning with a green thing which was held aloft for a cheer and promptly threw himself down a flight of stairs just to make us laugh. What an exit! I missed a very important meeting with a woman from the museum the next morning, but it was worth it.

Gigi took a characteristic punt on my first book Our Kids are Going To Hell as he always ignored the logical economics of putting books out. Whereas other publishers had scratched their heads, gone over it and said things like "I can’t see a European market for this" etc, whereas they were negative and basically lacking any guts or vision, he just said it "looks a lot better, why don’t we do something". In our line of work we only very rarely meet someone who feels similarly about a topic with whom agreement can become a method to address it. Working on ‘Our Kids’ with him was the beginning of my photography life proper.

In August 2009, after being sent away a few times for arriving before noon, we laid out the mini prints to consider on a table at Trolley's former office in Redchurch Street, east London. It seemed we edited and sequenced it in half an hour. It took much longer of course but that is testimony to the intuitive way we worked. It was the first time I had input from someone who could actively make my work better, pictures becoming a book. There were narrative moves that I couldn’t go with knowing the back-stories, but others that he made that were akin to killer chess moves. Those we kept. In the end we hugged, it felt to me as though we had fixed something of which we would proud.

The climate devised by him was often attritional and combative. The artist Paul Fryer who did an early Trolley book with Damien Hirst, recently described the group as a "satanic creche". Gigi often found a form of attack was the only way to deal with the egos of photographers. His idea was that if people couldn’t handle it then they weren’t worth it. He was undoubtedly a difficult, complex man at times. We nearly came to blows in a back street in Venice once, only because he thought I didn’t trust him. "No logo, no logo" he was shouting. There’s footage somewhere of him, after the storm, beating me up with a rose that was my peace offering.

His ‘no bullshit’ stance on things cut to the chase. My second book God Forgotten Face could have been a mess without him being brutal with me. When I came to London to show the work in early 2010 I thought I was finally done. He told me, "It looks like you’ve just started". I went back quite confused and upset to Plymouth, but after a few days I knew he was right. Hannah Watson, his business partner, had to say to me, "He said it because he thinks you can take it..." That changed the work. He pushed me to do a more original book. Sometimes we can’t see our own pictures for what they are. We get clouded with the knowledge of the event and importantly, our egos. We need editors we can trust, who bring something to the table. He used to say "everyone do their job", he knew what his was.

He was a bit calmer with the gallery artists he worked with. He loved them as people, possibly because he was a form of artist himself. Interestingly, he saw very little grey area between art for the gallery and the photography he worked with. There was no hinterland of photography trying too hard to be art at Trolley. He said to me once, “You’re about as arty as I go", but it was him who always reined me back from being overly self-indulgent.

The first time when we were on press in Italy in 2009, we had discussed paper stock during the morning and found a good match. Over a typically good prosecco-fuelled lunch I noticed him thumbing the stock sample he had brought to the restaurant. I realised this was a publisher still in love with making photo-books after all these years. That’s of course what we all want, what we will continue to need. Gigi was a highly principled man but rarely for the ‘politicised’ he had vision, tons of flair, integrity and great bravery. He used these qualities to work our piles of pictures into books that contained life in an honest way.

So naturally I will miss him enormously as an editor and publisher, but at present many people are feeling the loss of a simply irreplaceable friend. He affected a lot of careers, but it’s the great laughs we’ll miss the most. I think of him at one of Maya Hoffman’s incredible chateau parties in Arles. He had collected all the VIP tickets from the floor and was throwing them over the wall so all of us could get in. He always found a way and it seems like yesterday.
Robin Maddock

The show ‘Trolleyology’, a survey of the ten years of publishing at Trolley opens on 18 January. The private view will be held on the evening of the 17th at the London Newcastle space on 28 Redchurch Street, London. An accompanying book of the same name is due in the Spring. Trolley Publishing and TJ Boulting continue under his business partner Hannah Watson at 59 Riding House Street, London.