Italian photographer Cristina Vatielli has been working in the photographic world for well over a decade. Thanks to formative experiences with some of the great figures from Magnum Photos, Vatielli has a strong grounding in the medium and from there, has begun to make her own independent, top-notch work. Her photographs have received recognition from the Sony World Photography Awards, IPA, PX3 and many more outlets.
BtF: How did you begin your work in photography? Was there a "decisive moment" when you knew it was a special medium for you, when you felt truly committed to it?
CV: I attended photography school in Rome, and in 2004, at the age of 20, I started to work as an assistant for Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrin. That moment was decisive in showing me how a photographer works. Being next to him gave me the opportunity to learn how to tell a story through images. I then started my first photographic project in 2006, focusing on the memory of the civil war in Spain. It was a dream for me to use photographer to give a voice to realities long kept silent.
Another important encounter was when I met the photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen. Thanks to him, I realized that you can talk about internal feelings without having to tell them through external stories. He showed me how to stage scenes in front of the camera that served as expressions of the emotions within.
BtF: When you were beginning photography, were there any people, artists, books, films that served as essential inspirations?
CV: Before starting to work as a photographic assistant, I was studying art history at university and I was in love with Mantegna, Caravaggio, Impressionism, De Chirico, Hopper. Then, during university, I had the chance to read Roland Barthes, Rosalind Krauss and Susan Sontag, all of whom inspired me to engage even more deeply with photography.
I am still in love with the photographic world of the early 1900s that influences my vision to this day.
Of course, Pellegrin's work has influenced me a lot. He was my mentor and while I was working with him I had the chance to meet many great photographers: Stanley Greene, Larry Towell, Joseph Koudelka, Ilkka Uimonen...Them and others have all set such great examples for me, both photographically and as human beings.
BtF: Cartier-Bresson famously said "Your first 10,000 shots are your worst." Can you share a humbling moment that happened to you recently with regards to your photography? A moment when you realized, like all of us, that there's always much more to learn?
CV: Even though I worked as an assistant photographer for years—which helped to prevent problems—I have a couple of embarrassing occasions that are impossible to forget.
The first: I had to work in a suburb outside of Rome. When I arrived, I opened the camera bag and realized I had forgotten all my flash cards. I kept calm and quickly found a shop where they could be bought in the area. But it was a real adventure, as the person I had to photograph had only one hour available for me.
Last year, I was in the mountains to shoot for my last project "Picasso's Women." I was returning to the same spot because the first photograph I had shot came out blurred. Climbing the mountain with all my equipment—in the winter temperature, no less—and reaching the top, we saw it was perfect: the day, the light, the clouds. I loaded the Mamiya camera on the tripod, had everything ready for the click...and both the batteries I had were not charged.
—Cristina Vatielli, interviewed by behindthefra.me