15 Minutes with…Rino Barillari “The King of Paparazzi”

Rino Barillari and Sofia Loren. Archivio Barillari's Story

The King of Paparazzi, Rino Barillari, once reigned as the biggest photographer of the stars during the era of “la dolce vita.” Barillari regularly photographed the most famous icons of world cinema, including Liz Taylor, Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and many more. Romeing met Barillari in Piazza Navona to talk about his incredible career, Hollywood stars, and Paolo Sorrentino’s film “The Great Beauty”. The maestro even prepared a guide especially for us of the best places to find Hollywood stars in Rome today.

Ph: Pieri Mass

54 years have gone by since you first started your career. Today the world knows you as The King of Paparazzi. Do you still follow the VIP crowd?

I still chase the stars! But we have a digital age now and the celebrity elite isn’t what it used to be.

How has your work changed from then up to now?

There used to be more respect for film stars.There was usually an unspoken agreement with the photographer to be photographed, and they trusted that only high-quality photos would be published around the world. They understood the power of a photograph and importance of a good shot: actors came to Rome to make a film and once a certain photo hit the press the whole world was talking about them. But today there are gossip magazines, more newspapers, more television networks… I think we’re nearing the end of photojournalism. Today the career of a paparazzo is in decline. Now anyone can take pictures with their smartphone. Everyone thinks they’re a great artist or photographer, and this is dangerous. They don’t realize how much more there is to it. I’ll always defend my profession which I hold so dear, because each photo is the story of a country.

Ph: Pieri Mass

Why did you choose this profession? Do you remember your first published photograph?

My first shot was John Wayne at the Spanish Steps. It was in 1958, 59. I sold that picture to the AP (Associated Press). All the Italian newspapers published it too. After that, I understood the lure and potential of a profession as a paparazzo.

You were a great observer of the dolce vita, immortalizing the most glamorous actresses and actors of that era. Which beauty struck you the most?

The most beautiful women for me were Sophia Loren, and Claudia Cardinale. Among the foreign divas: Liz Taylor, Brigitte Bardot and Eva Gardner.

Rino Barillari and Marcello Mastroianni. Archivio Barillari’s Story

How would you define la dolce vita?

To me, “la dolce vita” is the desire and possibility to achieve what your heart desires, that when you want something, you do anything you can to get it, whether you’re talking about love, your career, or business.

La Dolce Vita is the desire and possibility to achieve what your heart desires

Rino Barillari with Federico Fellini.

In your opinion, can we find great cinema personalities like the icons of the past on the big screen today or will no one ever quite be like them?

I don’t think you’ll ever see another Richard Burton or Alec Guinness. They were personalities taken from the theater, not from the street. Nowadays, it seems you only have to be beautiful to get work in that world. A real actor is his voice, the way he speaks, acts. It takes more than just looks.

Rino Barillari and Sonia Romanoff. Archivio Barillari’s Story

During your career, you were frequently rebuffed with violence and threat. Which clash was the most perilous?

The most dangerous confrontation was during the protests of ‘68: the police were using batons and weapons. I was young and took more risks – I’d never do what I did then today! I ended up in the hospital more than once. I also remember clashes with certain VIPs: I got into a scuffle with Frank Sinatra’s bodyguard on Via Veneto and with Brigitte Bardot’s husband.

Rino Barillari and Audrey Hepburn in 1959

You were often on Via dei Condotti, Via Veneto, at the Trevi Fountain, etc. What were the favorite haunts of Hollywood stars? Could you make us up a quick guide?

Yes. Here’s a list: Trattoria Angelino “Al vero Frascati” (Piazza Margana); Da Meo Patacca (Piazza dei Mercanti, 30); Cencio la Parolaccia (Vicolo de’ Cinque, 3); Alfredo alla Scrofa (Via della Scrofa, 104a); Taverna Flavia (Via Flavia, 9); Dal Bolognese (Piazza del Popolo). All the biggest personalities of the world have gone and still go to these spots.

Do you still go to these restaurants? And which are your favorite places in Rome?

I don’t eat at those places, but I wait outside with my camera! It’s best to catch the star you want to photograph without he or she suspecting it. My favorite place is Loris Bar (Viale Angelico, 56) where you can still feel hints of the old dolce vita.

You live on Piazza Navona, where you made a cameo in Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning film “The Great Beauty”. What are your thoughts on the film and its message?

If you’re a foreigner, the concept of “the great beauty” is quite simple: this city is absolutely stunning and photogenic and magical. For a Roman, you relate to the film’s themes of political corruption,drugs, beauty, night life, people who tell lies, bankruptcy and growing pains in Italy. But in short, Sorrentino asked me to do a cameo and I did it in exchange for taking photos on set!




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