The glamour photographer Mario Casilli's most iconic photos are now compiled in the nearly 100-page Mario Casilli (Reel Art Press, $49.95) which features a foreword by Dynasty's Joan Collins, one of the decade’s most memorable stars.
Casilli also snapped Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Farrah Fawcett, Twiggy, Dolly Parton and Brooke Shields, among countless others, and the stars of popular television shows like Miami Vice, Dallas and Cutter to Houston.
“It’s a tremendous body of work about a decade that’s seen a lot of popularity and it’s never really been seen all together,” Ron Avery, president of the mptv photo archive, tells The Hollywood Reporter. His company provided the archival photos for the book. “We thought the timing was right to bring all this to light.”
Casilli’s photography -- much of which appeared in TV Guide -- during the '80s spotlighted a style moment dominated by shoulder-pads, vibrant colors and sequins. The photographer's lighting added to the glam factor. It was with complementary lighting, casting a halo-like beam of light on each of his subjects, long before the era of photoshopping.
“There are no enhancements done to these people other than the softness of the lighting,” Avery says. “That would make somebody look a little more youthful than maybe they were but that’s about it.”
Casilli’s rapport with his subjects was a big part of what made his photography successful. Avery says that by looking at his work, it’s obvious that celebrities were comfortable with him. "It wasn't just an act," Avery says. "He was someone that had a love and a desire for his passion but was truly approachable and a nice person."
This is demonstrated in one of three photographs Casilli shot of Sally Field that are featured in the book. The actress squeezes into a pink satin Playboy bunny suit with matching ears, and smirks at the camera with a fluffy bow and arrows slung over her shoulder.
“They know he’s only going to show them in their best possible way,” Avery says. “They’re not going to be compromised if they have a bad expression. The lighting is going to accentuate their beauty and downplay their flaws.”
In a photograph of Suzanne Somers, Casilli used a pink backdrop, shiny pink chair and lilies to evoke softness. Somers, with her cleavage on full display in a matching light-pink negligee, pouts at the camera. She manages to pop, even against the vivid pink background.
Casilli shot in Kodachrome film, which never fades and makes colors look rich and saturated. “The wonderful thing about Kodachrome is that it doesn’t matter when it was shot,” Avery says. “If it’s stored correctly, it looks like it was shot yesterday.”
Kodachrome film was difficult to work with and it required photographers to be confident in their skills. It was expensive to purchase and wasn’t available in a wide variety of speeds. It was also harder to develop because few labs would process it, Avery says. Kodachrome film was discontinued during the 2000s.
Avery first met Casilli at Art Center in Pasadena during the '70s, when he was a student and Casilli, his art instructor. He says it seemed natural for mptv to represent his work.
Casilli's work spanned more than just the '80s. “It’s hard to encapsulate somebody’s career in one decade,” Avery says. “It’s great to show everybody one decade of his work, but he was a lot more than this."
Casilli also snapped photos for Playboy and album covers for musicians, including Streisand, George Benson and Donna Summer.