My Life with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton
Gianni Bozzacchi’s ‘Life in Focus’
By his own admission, Gianni Bozzacchi was “a street kid who just got lucky.” The Italian camera bug became the photographer to movie stars and other royalty in the dolce vita days of the ‘60s and ‘70s. He was the one taking pictures of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on their yacht—and of Grace Kelly in her Monaco palace and even the Shah of Iran on his motorcycle.
In his memoir, My Life in Focus, Bozzacchi chronicles a life that began on the hungry postwar streets of Rome; his existence was like the neo-realism of Bicycle Thief but his imagination was stimulated by Hollywood movies. His father worked as a photographer and exposed him to the dark room at an early age. Bozzacchi claims he was never certain he wanted to be a photographer and as if to fulfill his doubt, largely hung up his camera by the end of the ‘70s.
Bozzacchi owes much of his success to winning the lottery of being born in the right place at the right moment. By the early ‘60s Rome became an international center of movie production and he drifted into filmmaking circles. He claims to have witnessed Sergio Leone teach Clint Eastwood how to scowl for the camera. He found work at the edge of the industry, first by retouching photos, then by shooting his own. Michelangelo Antonioni hired him to teach David Hemmings the body language of photographers for Blow Up. But his big break came when he was assigned to photograph Taylor and Burton while making The Comedians. As court photographer in their jet-setting entourage, doors opened.
My Life in Focus is an endearing account from a man with a healthy attitude toward stardom, well aware, first hand, of the prison of fame. As a photographer, he allowed the light to capture the moment and balanced craft with art. “I had to satisfy not only my subject but myself,” he writes.
My Life in Focus is published by University Press of Kentucky as part of its Classic Film series.