The adventurous life of photographer Lorenzo Capellini from Genoa to every corner of the globe

Photographer Lorenzo Capellini. Credit: Gaetano Gianzi

Photographer Lorenzo Capellini. Credit: Gaetano Gianzi

Likewise his fellow citizen, a certain Christopher Columbus, who reached the New World in 1492, Italian photographer, Lorenzo Capellini (born in 1939, in Genoa) has been experiencing an adventurous life, immortalizing personalities and realities from every corner of the globe. 
Capellini has had the chance to meet and befriend with giants of worldwide literature, the likes of Ernst Hemingway and Alberto Moravia.
 
Most of all, Lorenzo hasn’t been only a passive observer. Prompted by Hemingway’s tales, the photographer spent a very long time in Africa, where he soon developed an impressive ecological activism. 
Italian Tramer Art Lounge, a multi-functional space in Los Angeles, was envisioned by curator/photographer, Maddalena Patrese, in 2014, to enable Italian artists to express and exchange their artistic visions and ideas. 
 
From last January 21 to 24, in occasion of the 25th international photographic art exposition, Photo LA, at the REEF, in Downtown LA, Italian Tramer Art Lounge showcased a comprehensive lineup of the most remarkable Italian photographers.
In the case of Lorenzo Capellini, Maddalena, who was his assistant in the past, didn’t need to scout for talent, but simply to pick the photographer’s most evocative portrays. 
 
Dear readers, do not let yourselves be misled by what may seem an easy task: matter of fact, the curator had to select among the master’s rich portfolio, which spans almost sixty years of history.  
 
What is your cultural background? How old were you, and how did you become interested in photography?
I was 11 years old, when I contracted a disease, namely nephritis, which, by keeping me in bed for three months, enabled me to get closer to photography. 
I was living with my family in Genoa. My father was a great collector of ancient art, so I had the chance to photograph artworks (such as sculptures, paintings, ceramics, silver) in the house. Then, I turned from the objects to portraits of people passing by to say hello. 
Once recovered, I continued to take pictures with great passion and finished school. 
My parents allowed me to not pursue university, so, on January 1958, I left for London, where I began my life with photography.
 
From 1958 to ‘64, you lived in London, where you started your career as professional photographer. Tell us more about those years, especially about your collaboration with the weekly publication, Il Mondo?
In London, I had to do at least one film (36 exposures) per day. At night, I used to develop and print it, by equipping my bathroom as a dark room. The following morning, I was in the newspaper’s offices to try to sell the photos, whom I made the day before, while wandering along the streets of the city. 
They liked my photos to such an extent, that, on March 1959, they sent me to Spain for services on bullfights. Back then, there were two great matadors Antonio Ordóñez and Luis Miguel Dominguín. In that occasion, I had the good fortune to meet Ernest Hemingway, as he was following those two bullfighters, protagonists of his last book, The Dangerous Summer. 
Those were the years of the Swinging London, when the great cultural and social revolution exploded. Certainly, I wasn’t immune to such an exciting time, featuring the Beatles, Harold Pinter, Tony Richardson, David Bailey, the models, Twiggy and Jane Shrimpton, and so on.
 
In ‘64, you moved to Kenya and other countries in Africa. Quite a cultural leap, how was it like to adapt to such a different reality?
In 1964, mindful of what Hemingway told me about the beauties of Africa, I decided to make a trip to Kenya, rightly regarded by Ernest as the most beautiful country in the world. 
The trip was supposed to last 12 days, and it lasted five years instead! I spent all my time, photographing everything I was able to capture.
I was fascinated by the beauty and grandeur of those skies, of those animals and that nature, whom thankfully men had not yet spoiled.
 
In 1974, along with a touring exhibition, a book was published on the life of Francesco Petrarca: first biography of a giant of Italian literature to have ever been realized through photographs. The exhibition, Itinerari con Francesco Petrarca, is still part of the permanent collection in the Poet’s home at Arquà Petrarca (Padua). What did excite you about that project?
In 1974, on the occasion of the sixth centenary of the death of Francesco Petrarca, I was hired for the project of a book and a photo exhibition on the life of the great Poet. 
I was very passionate about my job. I toured Europe to photograph places, paintings, sculptures and documents to rebuild his life. 
Both the exhibition and the book had a great success. We organized three editions and, for several years, one toured across Europe, the second crossed Asia and the third, the whole American continent. In the US alone, it was hosted in 52 cities.
 I realized then that this was the first biography in images in the history of Italian literature.
 
Please, tell us more about your professional collaboration and friendship, over the years, with the novelist/journalist, Alberto Moravia.
Alberto Moravia, one of the last century’s greatest Italian writers, was one of my closest friends. We met in the late ‘60s and since then, there has been a continuous bond. We shared the same passion for Africa. 
Alberto lived for three years with me in Venice and, in the late 70s, we began traveling to Africa for long periods. We realized the great reports for the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera. 
Moravia was an extraordinary journey companion, tirelessly looking for emotions, whom, that country, those animals, those skies, the smells, the colors and, especially, those somehow primitive peoples but hospitable and kind, did not fail to offer.
I always admired Alberto’s curiosity, his culture, his art. His brilliance enlightened me every time! A great man, a great writer, a great friend. I really miss him. My life without Moravia is different.
 
Every March from 1992 to 1998, you were guest of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, in the north of Canada, where you photographed the birth of seals for Italian and foreign magazines. On March 1999, you were invited again to document the birth of wales in Baja California. As an ecologist, do you think that the more people are able to see firsthand the beauties of Nature (also through your photos), the more they become respectful of other species?
Brian Davies, founder of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) - one of the world’s largest organizations for the protection of animals - invited me for several years on the ice sheet in the North Atlantic Ocean, to photograph the birth of seals, thus raising awareness, in Europe, of the killing of baby seals by Canadian fishermen. 
European Commission headquarters were invaded by millions of letters and postcards from around the world, demanding to put an end to that horrible activity. We were in Brussels, in the office of the Commissioner for the Environment, as he signed the decree to prohibit the trade of seals’ skins in the European market. 
From that moment on, millions of those wonderful animals have been saved. 
For thousands of years, the great whales descended from the Arctic to give birth, in the Lagoon of Saint Ignatius, in Baja California.
For several years, IFAW had been present in this huge lagoon on the Pacific Ocean, to document the birth of whales. 
The situation got out of control, when the Mexican government authorized Mitsubishi to build, in its vast salt marshes, the colossal engines to extract salt from the sea. They meant to destroy an ecosystem. 
Who knows what would have occurred to the whales, just a year later? We fought hard to prevent any harm to that incredible species. 
We brought personalities from around the world to witness this extraordinary spectacle, and alert them about the agreement between the government of Mexico and the largest Japanese corporation. 
Fortunately, the Mexican government changed its mind and, to date, whales continue to procreate in the Lagoon of Saint Ignatius.
 
In conclusion, tell us more about your work, Portraits of Art, within the group exhibition of Italian photographers, presented by ITALIAN TRAMER Art lounge, at the recent Photo LA international exposition (January, 21-24).
My portraits are part of a major anthological exhibition of about 400 works, titled Life and looks of a photographer, which was presented last year in Palazzo Ducale, in Genoa.
The portraits, exhibited at Photo LA 2016, were presented by my friend, photographer and art curator, Maddalena Patrese and her ITALIAN TRAMER project. I believe that what she’s doing, represents a great opportunity to enhance the Italian culture and artists in Los Angeles. 

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