Judy Starkman, who worked as a London-based feature documentary filmmaker for networks, such as ABC, CBS, CNN, and SKY-TV, alongside several incursions in still photography and the shooting of commercials, has been constantly training her storytelling skills, from a visual and informative perspective.
She is married to Bill Lagattuta, a former award-winning anchorman and reporter for NBC and CBS, who is currently enjoying a second creative life as an artist with a distinct style, that combines the use of metals with the love for language.
In common, Judy and Bill have the ability to document any situation objectively, combined with an out-of-the-box way of looking at the world. In Lagattuta’s case, a genuine eagerness to reconnect to his Sicilian roots certainly played its part. Starkman, despite lacking any blood ties to Italy, has developed an authentic fascination for Italian culture, people and places.
Together, they realized a wonderful photo project, entitled Innovativo Creativo Italiano, viewable at the website: https://www.italianila.com, waiting for the publication of a photo book and, likely, the installation of a series of exhibitions, both in L.A. and across Italy.
For the first part of their photo shoot, Judy and Bill handpicked some interesting Italian personalities who had expatriated from Italy in search of the “American Dream.” Today, almost all of them seem to lead successful lives in Los Angeles. However, the photographers certainly hit a nerve, with their picture of an Italian couple forced to pack their belongings and prepare to leave, as their visas expired.
For “Part Two,” last summer, Judy and Bill traveled to Sicily – particularly its southeastern portion, called Val di Noto – and Puglia. They spent two and a half months there, photographing Italian people who either revitalize longstanding traditions, or employ their intrinsic creativity to invent opportunities, wherever there are none left.
Here are some insights into Innovativo Creativo Italiano from Bill Lagattuta.
Where did the idea for your photographic project, entitled Innovativo Creativo Italiano, come from?
Over the years in Los Angeles, we have got to know lots of expats from Italy. Italians by their very nature seem to be very creative. We found a common thread in the fact that many of them had been frustrated in their home country in doing the kind of work they really wanted to do, cause of bureaucracy, unemployment and lack of opportunities. Therefore, they came to the US and try to be successful here (that is the case for the vast majority of them).
We chose to photograph a number of them, highlighting their uniqueness and focusing on their always creative worlds. After this initial phase, last year, we decided to have a second part in Southern Italy, where we had already travelled extensively in the past. We befriended lots of people who, despite a series of obstacles, manage to work creatively in their home country.
As you mentioned, the project is divided in two parts: in the first, you focused on Italians who were urged to expatriate to L.A. Could you share with us some of their stories?
One remarkable example is the life story of Cristina and Laura Capitanio, two sisters who specialized in the restoration of frescoes and other artworks in their home town, Bergamo (Lombardy, Italy). Despite their degrees, they were unable to make ends meet in Italy, so they relocated to Los Angeles.
They found work in Hollywood’s movie sets and, eventually, were able to start their own successful design company here. The two sisters also realize large-scale paintings, like the mural on the façade of a L.A.’s restaurant in our photo.
We’ve also photographed well-known Italian restaurateur, Piero Selvaggio, who emigrated from Modica, Sicily, to the US over forty years ago, and today owns, among others, Santa Monica’s prime restaurant, Valentino. His model of operating in the food business has led the way and generated a large following all over the world.
Last but not least, Dr. Aldo Palmieri, MD came from Rome to NYC first and to LA then, to expand his medical knowledge and, today, he is one of the prime gynecologist and obstetrician in the area.
What about the second part of your project, in which you photographed Italians who have decided to stay and pursue their dreams in their home country?
Perhaps, our favorite story is the one of Enrico Russino, who opened a farm, called Gli Aromi, in Scicli, in the Province of Ragusa (in the south east of Sicily). He grows an exceptional variety of herbs and leads olfactory tours to promote this unique heritage among tourists from every corner of the world. We portrayed him as he is stretched out on a blanket of his herbs.
We photographed a number of people in and around Scicli, which is our favorite town in the entire island. One of them, a film director, Alessia Scarso, has realized the film, Italo, about a beloved dog adopted by all the villagers.
Pierpaolo Ruta, a prime chocolatier from Modica (in the same Province of Ragusa), who has both his hands chocolate-soaked in our picture, has followed in the footsteps of his father, managing the longest running chocolate factory in the area, the Dolceria Bonajuto.
Have you already planned out your next trip to Italy? Or are you going to improvise and leave it open to chance encounters?
There is a “pool” of people we plan to photograph, but every time we travel, we end up finding many more interesting individuals than originally intended.
Among these, Rosella Fava, who lives in Bologna but hails from Ragusa, was a total discovery. She is a life coach, a very unusual occupation in Italy, especially for a Sicilian.
We photographed her on top of a red ladder, surrounded by a country field. We wanted to symbolized her job in helping others ascend to success.
To crown it all, here is Judy Starkman’s take on this fascinating photo project, as well as her exclusive preview of its next exciting phases:
“My husband, Bill Lagattuta’s grandfather was from Mezzojuso (Palermo, Sicily) and he has always been interested in exploring his Sicilian roots. Every year, we have been doing exactly that, by travelling to those enchanting places and dreaming perhaps to live there one day.
We were inspired to start our project by my closest friend in Los Angeles, Luisa Da Re, a teacher of Italian from Padua. About two years ago, with her encouragement, I resolved to learn the language. In the course of my studies, I’ve met a number of expats from Italy, residing in L.A.
Life as an expatriate really fascinated me. It was something I had experienced myself, as I lived and worked for five years as photographer, journalist and documentary filmmaker in London.
Moreover, I’ve always been curious about other cultures, so this project, Innovativo Creativo Italiano, seemed like a natural progression. We interviewed Laura Govoni Bachelder, who, besides working as an accomplished architect for Frank Gehry Associates, is a passionate surfer along the Pacific Coast.
Alongside more unknown people, we chose to photograph well-known Italian personalities, the likes of TV hostesses, Elisabetta Canalis and Maddalena Corvaglia, who are in the process of reinventing themselves, by opening a gym in Los Angeles.
In between, it stands Giuseppe Patanè, a guitarist, composer, producer, as well as co-founder of Patahaus, a creative hub for artists in L.A.. We photographed him “mid-air” at a dry lake bed near the “City of Angels.”
Last summer, we decided to expand the project with a “Part Two.” We travelled across Sicily for two and a half months, not only to go back to Bill’s ancestral village, but also to capture some extremely creative personalities from Val di Noto. Individuals who were virtually unknown outside of the island, let alone here in L.A.
We are so enamored of the place and the people, that we’ve just bought an house in this wonderful Sicilian area.
Our future plans are to travel across the rest of Italy and to document other fantastic characters, alongside continuing to shoot a documentary on Carmelo Candiano, who uses the countryside as an inspiration for his sculptures, both abstract and figurative.
Ideally, in addition to the release of our photographic book, we’d like to have both our snaps and our film featured in multimedia installations, both in L.A., as well as across Italy.”