In 1968, the artist Alexander Calder visited his friend the photographer Milton Gendel in Rome. Out for dinner, Calder took to Gendel’s shoes with a pencil – taking advantage of the whitewash paint that he’d splattered across them in the studio that day. He drew Gendel’s portrait on one some, his profile on the other. He signed each: “AC”.
“At the end of the meal, as we walked into the street, I decided to take them off. Calder, who was built like a bear, came after me shouting: “Put your shoes back on – it’s the winter, you’ll catch a cold. I’ll give you another drawing!” But I didn’t have far to go. I got the shoes framed eventually. They now sit on my piano and are among my most treasured possessions.
The photograph was taken decades later. It was used as the cover of a catalogue for a show I gave in the museum of Spoleto in 2006. They suggested the shoes be used for the cover, but I wanted to make the image more personal, so I photographed myself reflected in the frame’s glass. As you can see, it looks as if I am behind the shoes, falling feet-first. It was a piece of luck, like so much in photography.
I would describe it as a triple mug shot, and one of the most evocative photos I have taken, capturing place, person and situation. It is biographical, too: it shows me holding a camera, with the results of what I can do with a camera. As I was taking it, I was wondering if it would work. I took it in digital, looked at it, realised it was right, and kept it.”
- Milton Gendel on his precious Calder-illustrated shoes
Below are some more of Gendel’s photographs…
Above: “André Chastel, Mikonos” by Milton Gendel (1957).
Above: ”Peggy Guggenheim and Pegeen Vail, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Venice” by Milton Gendel (1950).
Above: ”Salvador Dalì, Paris” by Milton Gendel (1970).
Above: ”Gabriella Drudi, Alberto Burri and Judy Gendel, Grottarossa, Rome” by Milton Gendel (1962).
Above: ”Setzuko Klossowski de Rola, Villa Medici, Rome” by Milton Gendel (1977).