Monday, November 1, 2010

Coppi, Bartali and the Legendary Photo

During the stage between Lausanne and Alpe d 'Huez of the 1952 Tour de France, Fausto Coppi was leading the race in the yellow jersey. During the climb of the Galibier a photographer for Omega, Carlo Martini, snapped a photo where you could see the passage of a water bottle between the two arch rivals. The photo quickly became a symbol of knightly sports rivalry, the contest between gentlemen and fair play that characterized the relationship between the two champions. But, the truth about the photograph has always been in debate: It is not known which one passed the water bottle to his rival.

In the immediately preceeding story in ICJ we see Faustino Coppi in the sitting room of his home with the legendary photograph of the water bottle being passed between Coppi and Bartali. Faustino says, "It was my dad that passed it, not the other way."

It was by chance, last year, that I came across an Italian interview with Vito Liverani, referred to as the dean of Italian photography. He is the guardian of the secret of the historic photo. Only he knows who passed the "bottle". "But I will not say who passed it to whom, never" swears the photojournalist. The interview:

Q. Is the picture of the water bottle being passed yours?
A. by Liverani: First, we must point out one thing. Coppi and Bartali were not passing a water bottle but a bottle of water, probably of Perrier. Yet it is always spoken of a water bottle. Wrong. Just look closely at the photo and you see that is a bottle.

Q. Who took the photo?
A. I managed the exploitation of the image on behalf of the wife of Carlo Martini, the photographer who snapped it. I would like it to be very clear that the photo was taken by him because over the years many photographers have claimed authorship. That photo is by Martini, there is no doubt. I knew him very well, I took his place at the Gazzetta dello Sport.

Q. It's a photo shrouded in mystery and history isn't it?
A. In truth there's not much of a mystery. That picture has been created. Martini reached an accord with the two cyclists and the race director to shoot the photograph. He gave a bottle to his friend and told him to give it to them as they passed.

Q. And why?
A. To make a different photo. At that time we wanted our photographers to capture an image very different from all others. It is a creative photo, beautiful, an image that I wish I could have taken. Today, to create a picture like this would be impossible.

Q. In what sense?
A. In the sense that then there was respect among colleagues, the ideas and images would not be stolen. If Martini did this today there would be a dozen photographers copying his idea.

Q. Remove a doubt. Who passed the bottle? You know the answer.
A. Of course I do. But I'm not going to say.

Q. Why don't you want to say.
A. For the fans and for all the interest this photograph created over the years. For the gesture, during a race like in July a bottle of water is a precious commodity, necessary. Martini provided the water, and they passed it. A nice gesture. It does not matter to know who has passed first.

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  1. Argh! It was staged. What a let down.

    Like the price of the mag- that's about 6 cents.

  2. Staged just like the other iconic image of Coppi, the one where he passes "Viva Coppi" carved into the snowbank on Passo Stelvio. It's great to see the photo on the wall of Faustino's home, we have the same image framed in our dining room.

  3. Il Fausto has the crazy eyes in the color version.


  4. How about when one says there is more than 1 bottle photo? Didja cover that?? The one where Bartali looks like he has a bandana on his head and is wearing shades.

  5. @TomShea: I didn't cover that because this one is the famous photo; you can see it in the living room photo in the Coppi home.

  6. Okay, Angelo, I was trying to be argumentative, the Fotheringham book talks a bit about this so I wondered if in fact, how many "water bottle" photos there are, there are at least 2 but yes, you are right, the one in this article is the famous one. I wrote that tiny bit earlier because I was in a rush, I'm trying to sign in on my google account this time. Thanks. Nice blog, I will try to read all of the stories of interest to me.