In May 2013, Gary Hustwit spent a day photographing legendary designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli in their home studio. Vignelli: Photographs is a book that documents that day and celebrates their lives and work.
Massimo Vignelli had a huge impact on my life and career. He was the first designer I approached in 2005 to be included in my first film, Helvetica, and he was also the first on-camera interview I ever did. So in a way, he helped launch my career as a filmmaker. I’m so grateful that I got to spend a lot of time with him and his wife Lella, who was his counterpart in design and life.
In May 2013, I was getting more interested in still photography, and frankly I just wanted willing subjects I could photograph in order to get better at it. I thought about interesting people I knew in New York who might let me spend the day with them and be photographed, so I emailed Massimo and he graciously agreed. I just wanted to try to capture what it felt like being in that space with him and Lella at that point in their lives. Nearly everything in the house was designed by them… the furniture, lighting, vases, dishes, cutlery. I spent hours photographing the contents of their bookshelves, their kitchen, everything.
I tried to blend into the background and not disturb them while I was photographing. But Lella was in the first stages of Alzheimer’s, so Massimo and I talked about how their day-to-day lives had changed. “We’ve been so lucky, we’ve had a fantastic life,” he told me. “But this is my life now, caring for Lella.” He seemed to be very much at peace with the situation, it was a little sad but also so beautiful. He was in good spirits and seemingly good health that day, there was nothing to indicate to me that he’d be gone a year later. Lella passed away two years after Massimo in 2016.
I took over 400 photographs that day, and didn’t really have plans to do anything with them. But as the years passed, I saw these images as a kind of time capsule, a document of a day in the life of two incredible people who I admired, who were no longer with us. I recently published a small book of photos as part of the home video release for my film Rams, and I sort of fell in love with the form of a 6.5” x 6.5” hardcover book. So I decided to publish a selection of the Vignelli photos that way, and I’ve partnered with the Vignelli Center for Design Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology so a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit design education at the Center, in memory of Massimo and Lella.
Pre-order the book now and get an early bird discount. There’s also a signed limited edition that includes an original photograph and a custom Caran d'Ache Fixpencil 22, Massimo Vignelli’s drawing instrument of choice.
By Gary Hustwit
Release date: September 30, 2019