` Photographs by Ettore Sottsass (2023) – Friedman Benda

Photographs by Ettore Sottsass (2023)

          A prolific and curious photographer throughout his life, the images here assembled were taken by Ettore Sottsass during his period of recovery in the summer of 1962, and provide a compelling insight into his motivations during this crucial period. From May to late July 1962 Sottsass underwent treatment for serious illness in Palo Alto, but by early August was able to join Fernanda Pivano in San Francisco. Checking himself into a motel in South San Francisco, Sottsass set up a makeshift studio where, working throughout August on a folding table he began to create the collages — cut from telephone directories and newspapers — that would soon be self-published as the fourth issue of his Room 128 East Chronicle newsletter. Still frail, Sottsass could not walk with his camera more than a few blocks from his motel. Yet the world outside his doorstep intrigued and perplexed him — these mundane workaday scenes of semi-suburban Pop Americana — the gas stations, billboards, highways and trailer parks that signaled a mechanized and spiritually transient environment. 

          The second series of photographs likely date to around September 1962, when Sottsass was well enough to travel into the city and to socialize and explore a little. The panoramic views captured from within a lofty apartment (most likely the North Beach neighborhood of downtown San Francisco) suggest however that he was still recuperating indoors. A silhouette by a window is possibly Pivano. She had travelled to San Francisco ahead of Sottsass to meet with the local scene’s Beat writers for whom she was undertaking translations into Italian of their writings and poetry. Key amongst the contacts they met that summer was Leo Ferlinghetti, whose City Lights Bookshop was located close by, a few blocks away on Columbus Avenue. She also met with Allen Ginsberg, whom she had met in Paris the summer before, as well as poet Neal Cassidy with whom she attended a party at the home of Prankster author Ken Kesey. The die was set but not yet cast — a cultural alchemy of creative Beat Pop soon to reverberate across the world. When he left San Francisco that October, Sottsass would soon arrive in Milan with ideas that would critically alter the discourse of design.



          The ‘No Left Turn’ street view photo is taken at the intersection of Powell and Sutter streets in North Beach SF. Parson’s Optical was the clue, in fact you can see the Powell tram lines going up the hill. Looks like was leaning out of a car window, rather than on a tram.


         — Simon Andrews, independent curator and advisor 

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