Franco Fontana

Profile Franco Fontana

© Franco Fontana

“Life is in color.” – Franco Fontana

─── by Josh Bright, February 9, 2024
  • A pioneer of color and one of the most influential landscape photographers of our time, Franco Fontana has dedicated nearly six decades to capturing his surroundings with a masterful eye for composition and tone.

    Street photography by Franco Fontana. Man on the street.

    At first glance, Fontana’s most iconic works resemble paintings, reminiscent of the abstract expressionists who emerged in the US during the 1950s.

    His unique eye for color and form strips natural landscapes down to their essential elements, resulting in striking, geometric compositions that are captivating in their simplicity.

    Color landscape photography by Franco Fontana. Los Angeles
    Los Angeles, 1990
    Color landscape photography by Franco Fontana. Los Angeles
    Venice, Los Angeles 1990

    Born in Modena, Italy, in 1933, Fontana began experimenting with photography in his early 30s as a means to ‘express the emotions he felt while observing the world around him.’

    It was the early 1960s, more than a decade and a half before color photography would begin to receive acceptance as a legitimate art form. Fontana’s affinity for painting laid the groundwork for his photographic practice. Drawing inspiration from luminaries like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, he embraced color from the outset.

    Color landscape photography by Franco Fontana. Hills, Italy
    Basilicata 1995

    “I have always endeavored to interpret and convey what deeply resonates within me. However, I began to perceive possible parallels with renowned painters when my interest in art, particularly painting, became more profound. It was a visual understanding of color and space that already existed within my perception.”

    Color landscape photography by Franco Fontana. Colorful buildings in Italy.
    Pellestrina, 1975

    By the late 1960s, Fontana’s unique gaze had begun to catch attention. He had his first solo exhibition in 1968, in his hometown of Modena, and over the next decade created some of his most iconic works, including his stunning depictions of Basilicata’s rolling landscapes which demonstrate the unique visual language for which he would become renowned.

    Color landscape photography by Franco Fontana. Yellow and green fields with a single tree in the middle
    Basilicata, 1978

    In 1978 he published his debut book, ‘Skyline’, to widespread acclaim, and over the ensuing decades would go on to photograph across the world, capturing images of rural and urban landscapes that stand as some of the most compelling of the time. Alongside these works, he also began experimenting with polaroids, capturing details of his surroundings as well as nude portraits.

    Color landscape photography by Franco Fontana. Mediterranean sea.
    Mediterraneo, 1985

    Though undoubtedly more intimate and playful than his other works, these images nevertheless, bear his distinct aesthetic. Fontana was drawn to the format for its dynamism, describing polaroids as ‘embodying the concept of uniqueness’.

    To me, it felt like playing a child’s game where you instantly see the outcome. It’s also wonderful to revisit and modify those moments.’

    Color photography by Franco Fontana. Polaroid of two nude women.
    Nudo, 1983
    Color polaroid photography by Franco Fontana. Shadows against a wall.
    Untitled, 1998

    Now recognized as a key pioneer of artistic color photography, Fontana has, over the years, contributed to many of the world’s most notable publications such as, Time-Life, Vogue, and The New York Times.

    His images have been exhibited in a staggering 400 solo and group exhibitions globally and are held in the collections of some of the world’s most prestigious institutions, including, MoMA (New York), Musée d’Art Moderne (Paris), and Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna Contemporaneao (Torino). 

    Color landscape photography by Franco Fontana. fields and blue sky with a single white cloud.
    Basilicata, 1987

    He has published some 70 books and received numerous awards and accolades, yet remains the same enigmatic visionary as ever.

    When asked about the evolution of his practice, his reply was a cryptic one, “To quote a phrase from the Prince of Salina in ‘The Leopard’: ‘everything changes to remain what it is’.”


    All images © Franco Fontana