Italy went through a rebirth after the second world war. It really was the most beautiful time, especially for a boy who had spent the war years in hiding – from the bombardment of Bologna but also because I was afraid of being captured by the Germans.
I took this in Rimini in 1951. Back then, it was a popular seaside destination for people from Bologna, since it was affordable and easy to get to. My parents had taken me a lot when I was a boy, because the sea air helped my asthma. But by then I was 25 and rarely went to the beach any more.
That day, I wandered around the town before going to the port, to watch the people and the passing boats. There were some boys playing on the dock, joking around and throwing each other in. They would go there every Sunday and have diving competitions, landing on their bellies and making a big splash.
These two boys were brothers. The younger one is sitting down, while the other has tried to run, jump and dive over him. It was very difficult as he only had about two or three metres to build up speed. The other boy kept his head down to avoid being knocked.
I had taken hundreds of other shots before this one, many of them winning awards, but I did not put this into any competitions and so it remained unknown for a long time. Then, years later, an American gallery owner came to Italy and fell in love with my work. He was particularly enamoured of this one and bought the original.
Since then it has become iconic, a little like a novel. In 2010, it was published in a Bologna newspaper and the readers were asked if anyone recognised these boys. Of course, many people started to write in, claiming they were relatives. For two months, the paper received messages each day. Everyone wanted to have a connection with the photo, since they thought they could make some money out of it. But we couldn’t corroborate any of the claims.
My work has always been what you might call explorative. I joined the photographers’ club in Bologna after the war and set out to discover new people and places. We were able to enjoy the simple things that had been missing during the war years: walking along streets, making new friends, eating in their homes, going dancing.
I had to do other jobs to earn a living, but my free time was dedicated to photography. I travelled to southern Italy and lived with families for weeks at a time, eating with them and getting to know them. Initially they were very aware of the camera and would stop and pose, but after a while they relaxed and the images became more natural.
I spent a lot of time with Italian painters, too. I wanted to see how they worked, what motivated them. In particular, I became good friends with Tancredi Parmeggiani, who was close to Peggy Guggenheim. He introduced me to her in Venice and I started taking pictures of her. Many of them now hang in the Guggenheim museums in Venice and New York.
I was at Peggy’s home the day Jackson Pollock’s first drip painting arrived in Italy. It was an enchanting experience. Nobody had ever seen anything like it. We celebrated and all got drunk while looking at it.
Born: Bologna, Italy, 1926.
High point: “Photographing sculptures produced by the Renaissance artist Niccolò dell’Arca with a candle as the only source of light.”
Low point: “Plenty!”
Top tip: “Use photography to express thoughts, moods and situations. Don’t place too much emphasis on it as a career.”