Gina Lollobrigida's latest project -- The actress-turned-author unveils a book of photomontages

By Tim Appelo
Updated December 23, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Gina Lollobrigida, 67, had no intention of becoming the international star of such movies as Beautiful But Dangerous and Trapeze.”I am a painter and a sculptor, and by chance I did movies,” says La Lollo, as she was known in her sexpot heyday. Now, Lollobrigida has produced her artistic magnum opus: The Wonder of Innocence, which contains over 150 photomontages of children and animals from around the world, culled from some 300 pictures that the actress snapped over the last 14 years.

”When I am with a camera, I’m like in a trance,” says Lollobrigida. ”I actually use the camera like a paintbrush. I did the book because I was in need of express(ing) my fantasy, and I thought to do children and animals was so amusing, so poetic — it was like Walt Disney.” Accompanying the images are apposite quotes from thinkers throughout the ages: Confucius, Shakespeare, Shaw, Lollobrigida. ”Some are very funny, and some they are, ah…deep,” she says. (One example: ”Women are wiser than men because they know less and understand more,” from the Irish poet James Stephens, which appears with the photo ”Girl Looking at a Mandarin Duck.”)

When it comes to art, Lollobrigida is a Renaissance woman. ”I don’t like this modern art, this kind of craziness — ‘abstract.’ This make me angry!” she says. ”When you put a naked woman looking at a mirror in a museum with a horse that is not bronze and say that is a sculpture — that’s not art anymore because they went too far.” (The first reference may be to 1932’s Girl Before a Mirror by Picasso, whom Lollobrigida considers something of a fraud.)

However, her own photos — which often portray her now-grown son, Milko, as a child in such tableaux as ”Naked Boy With Water Hose and Jaguar” — are weird enough to earn La Lollo a place next to artist Sally Mann (known for controversial nude photos of her own children) on a Jesse Helms hit list. Lollobrigida’s four previous photo books were fairly conventional; but this time, with images like ”Boy With Swiss Cheese and Nibbling Mice” (above, far right) and ”American Bald Eagle Carrying a Baby in Its Beak”, she’s definitely tilted toward surrealism — which happens to be the one modern art trend she can endorse with enthusiasm. ”Dalí? Chapeaux! (Hats off!)” she exclaims with a flourish, tipping an imaginary brim.

Lollobrigida had her own world-famous, Clement Greenberg-like critic advising her on this latest project: Mother Teresa, who penned the book’s foreward (”Let us love the child, the most beautiful creation of God ”). In 1990, Lollobrigida (who has volunteered for UNICEF and Somalian relief efforts) met Mother Teresa in Calcutta and showed her a photo of Mexican, Japanese, Indian, and African kids astride a giraffe’s neck. The star recalls, ”The first thing Mother Teresa said was, ‘Where is the white boy?’ Bright woman!” So, in the interests of multiculturalism and world peace, La Lollo added a redheaded French boy standing on the giraffe’s ear to the photo that adorns the book’s back cover.

”I succeed because these are nice imagination photographs,” concludes Lollobrigida, though she steadfastly refuses to specify her photomontage method. (”No computer,” she insists. ”I manage. I (have) the patience of a saint.”) She might also add, echoing an Oscar Wilde quote in The Wonder of Innocence: ”I have nothing to declare except my genius.”