is a Canadian-American photographer known for his large-scale color images of architecture, urban environments, and interiors. His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
(New York), Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Martin-Gropius-Bau museum (Berlin), and Instituto Moreira Salles (São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro). His photographs are also included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art
(New York), New Orleans Museum of Art
, The J. Paul Getty Museum
(Los Angeles), Victoria and Albert Museum
(London), Château de Versailles
, Centre Pompidou
(Paris), and Bibliothèque Nationale de France
(Paris), as well as many private collections.
Described as one of "most esteemed practitioners of large-scale photography,"
Polidori has photographed the restoration of the Château de Versailles since the early 1980s. He has also recorded the architecture and interiors of Havana, the inner-city habitats of Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, and Amman, the post-Hurricane Katrina devastation of New Orleans, buildings emptied by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and shelled structures in Beirut. At the time of the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal retrospective exhibition in 2009, curator Paulette Gagnon
described his work as a "photographic account that invites us to share the historical moments it portrays, making them part of the collective memory."
Where you point the camera is the question and the picture you get is the answer to decipher.
-- Robert Polidori
Robert Polidori was born in 1951 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to a French-Canadian mother and a Corsican father. At age 9, Polidori’s family moved to the United States where his father worked as an engineer at Air Force bases and NASA installations. He grew up in Seattle, southern California, New Orleans, and Cocoa Beach, and first attended university in Florida in 1969. During his freshman year, Polidori saw Michael Snow
's film Wavelength
(1967 film) and, inspired to study filmmaking, moved to New York City. The following year, he was hired by the legendary Jonas Mekas
and worked as the theatre manager of the Anthology Film Archives. During this time, Polidori worked on four experimental films, exhibited in 1975 at the Whitney Museum of American Art
. In 1980 he graduated with a Masters of Arts in film from State University of New York (Buffalo).
Polidori became interested in still photography while editing film frame-by-frame. Inspired by Frances Yates
' description in The Art of Memory of mnemonic systems requiring the memorization of empty rooms, he purchased a large-format camera in 1982 and photographed abandoned and apartments on New York's Lower East Side. In 1983 he moved to Paris and, interested in how empty spaces revealed history, began to document the restoration of Château de Versailles as a symbol of "society’s superego"
. In the late 1990s, Polidori was engaged by The New Yorker
to photograph Havana’s decaying architectural heritage and joined the magazine as a staff photographer in 1998. Images from his Cuban
series were later published in Havana (2001) by Steidl Verlag. Also interested in inner-city habitats or "auto-constructed"
growth, Polidori recorded the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the urban sprawl of Brasilia, the construction boom in Dubai, and the slums of Mumbai. In May 2001, he photographed the closed Chernobyl nuclear power plant and nearby ghost town of Pripyat, Ukraine, and these images were later published as Zones of Exclusion – Pripyat and Chernobyl
(2003). In 2002 Polidori was commissioned to photograph Detroit's Michigan Central Station for Metropolis (architecture magazine). Described by editor Martin C. Pedersen as "a keen observer of the built world"
, the magazine later published his urban images as Robert Polidori's Metropolis
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Polidori photographed the damaged homes and buildings of New Orleans, and documented the city's early restoration in 2006. Published as After the Flood
(2006) by Steidl Verlag, many of these images were also exhibited at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art as New Orleans after the Flood
, a popular and well-attended exhibition. Exhibitions of After the Flood were also mounted in London, Venice, and Toronto, as well as in New Orleans. During this time, Polidori continued to document the restoration of Château de Versailles and these photographs, published in the three-volume Parcours Muséologique Revisité
(2009), were included in his retrospective exhibition at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal.
Polidori returned to Beirut in 2010 where he photographed the damaged rooms of the famous Hotel Petra, abandoned during Lebanon’s civil war. The following year, he traveled to Paris to photograph the stored art collection of Yves Saint Laurent (designer), and to Venice to photograph the fashion label Bottega Veneta's fall 2011 campaign at the Palazzo Papadopoli. From 2011 to 2015 Polidori also revisited and rephotographed Rio as well as Mumbai, including Dharavi's industrial street facade in a series of tracking shots. Exhibited as composite panoramic murals at Paul Kasmin Gallery (New York) in September 2016, these images were also published in the accompanying volume 60 Feet Road
by Steidl Verlag.
Since 2015, Polidori and his family live in Ojai, California.
My photos are physical graphic records. A lot of the places I’ve photographed simply won’t exist – many have already ceased to exist in the state that they were photographed in. They’ve been bulldozed over. Photography is collective memory – that’s its nature...
-- Robert Polidori