The Italian influenced visual celebration entitled ItaliaNY by Alexo Wandael – aka Alessandro Cacopardo – is being hosted in Santa Monica by the non-profit organization Building Bridges Art Exchange. With Peroni, Italy’s number one beer as a sponsor, ItaliaNY was not only showcased in New York but also has expanded to Miami and Los Angeles.
This wonderful collection of bold black and white portraits consists of influential first generation Italians, who are now living in the U.S., capturing and celebrating each individual story and struggle into an iconic transcending photograph.
According to Marisa Caichiolo – who is the founder, director, and curator of the international exhibitions for Building Bridges Art Exhibition -, Alexo’s ItaliaNY “Is really touching because he has this connection with those people, a very interesting way to put them in a different context, but at the same time to humanize them. They look real and really connected to the American context: even if they are immigrants who came from Italy, Alexo makes them feel at home in the photographs.”
Alexo, what influenced you to just pursue photography after so many years studying and working in the field of architecture?
I worked 10 years as an architect in Berlin and New York, but my passion has always been photography and so I decided to jump into it. At first I was doing my projects for fine art exhibitions and then, thanks to a girlfriend who was a fashion stylist, I started shooting for fashion and celebrities.
In 2012, I changed the topic again and went to Afghanistan with the Italian Army. There I developed a sense of patriotism and decided to do a project about first generation Italians in the U.S., as I realized that I knew so many talented people working, living, and loving in New York. Each of the portraits came with an interview, where I asked why they left Italy and came to the United States, and what it means to be an Italian abroad. Besides just being a beautiful collection of portraits, which is my medium as a photographer, it’s almost like a social project telling their stories and the reason why they’re here.
What would you say is the most common goal for each story, each struggle?
I think it is the little act of courage to leave their commodities, parents, and friends, and try to find something somewhere completely different.  Many people have asked me why I only focus on Italians and not on Italian Americans, but these people are actually Italian Americans living here permanently. These photographs can remind many Italian Americans of old portraits of their parents or grandparents, who at a certain moment were first generation immigrants as well. So I’m talking to both Italians and Italian Americans. There are different types of immigration, and yet all of them left Italy and came here facing the same struggle.
What LA story would you say captured you the most?
There are so many incredible people in LA: restaurant owners, actors, music composers, painters, directors, journalists, surfers, fashion designers, and more. I like the fact that there are so many directions for me to follow. The project doesn’t focus on any particular aspect: I’m not taking pictures of the most successful, the most known, or the most beautiful. It rather is a 360-degree angle of all jobs and careers, of all levels of celebrity up to unknown people. And I think this is to create an authentic picture of the people coming to the United States in this historical moment.
I noticed most of your pictures are black and white, is there a particular reason for that?
When I started this project it was only black and white, which gave to it a more iconic feeling. Since I really like this project, I wanted to make an icon of each of the people I was portraying. The black and white is more durable in time, while color can easily go out of date. From the filtering or the color type you can understand what era the photographs belong to. With black and white this is more difficult: it can be the 1940s, ‘50s, or ‘60s.
What’s your next move after the LA exhibit?
When I started the project in NY and got Peroni as a sponsor, they proposed to expand it to Miami and Los Angeles, and I accepted. Perhaps, it can even travel to Chicago in the future. The next step is to launch the website, which is going to be in the middle of June, and after that I’m going to try and find a new sponsor to create a coffee table book to combine all these portraits and their stories in a huge collection.
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