Life experiences from prison and street photography Donato Di Camillo shares how photography has changed his life

Donato Di Camillo began realizing how powerful photography was while locked up in federal prison. It was through reading books and magazines that made Di Camillo realize how influential of a medium it was. It gave him a means to explore outside the confines of his mind, but it wasn’t until released that he was able to express himself and speak through images. The dark world in which he knew so well would soon come to light after being released from prison in 2011. “My inspiration derived from many great documentary photographers, such as Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt, Gary Winogrand, and William Klein, just to name a few, but it was Bruce Gilden and Klein’s street photography that made me realize that I could scream through my images.” His work is a constant search that’s forged out of his own curiosities. They’re derived from his own interpretation of people, as well as deep rooted moments in the physiological confines of his mind.

How did you first become interested in Leica?

I first became interested in Leica when I picked up an M9 unit for the first time. I had heard a lot about its performance but never actually created a photograph with one. When I finally had the opportunity it felt like magic in my hands, the click of the shutter had me hooked the very first time. It pushed me to my creative limits.

Please share the concept behind the project “Beach Body Bingo“; what were you exploring and what do you want audiences to get out of this?

Beach Body Bingo was never intended to become a body of work, it kind of took shape on its own after making a few photographs that I thought might be pleasant enough to present after a few times frequenting the beach at Coney Island. After a while making pictures there, I felt that the world could use a splash of color in a timeless place such as the beach.

In a way, the beach symbolizes a general and social aspect of the communities we live amongst. You can see the diversity, race, color, religion, everyone co-existing and living as human beings. A beautiful concept that somehow strikes the current political discourse. Is this something you like to depict in your images?

As the photographer, I felt a certain urgency to make pictures made up of all different types of people living in harmony in one area, and what better place than the beach? I felt it was important, especially in these trying times. As a nation, we are faced with ugly truths, stemming from, terrorism, politics, and racial tensions, and so much more. For me, it was a way to see life in a different light and add a splash of color.

You were in prison. A place that many folks can’t even imagine how it is, what it feels like, or who you meet. However, you used your time well and learned photography by reading, observing and having patience. These characteristics are very typical in street photography. What else can you share with our audience about this experience?

Prison is a place where tensions can be cut with a knife. The massive amount of personalities encouraged  me to pay extremely close attention at the smallest details of each inmate. It gave me a chance to study behaviors and use that study for good use when executing photographs back on the streets.

There is an element of irony and humor in these images – often when your subjects are older people. In a way, there is no posing, no barriers, very natural and raw. How long do you wait for these specific moments?

For me capturing moments is very often on impulse, even when I engage a subjects to pose for me, it’s usually something that shouts out from my subconscious that draws me to that particular person.

You mention you started using Leica cameras when you first handled a Leica M9. Who showed it to you and why did you continue using Leica?

The first Leica I used was an M9 in a New York photo convention, my first impression wasn’t a great one because everything was manual and I was so accustomed to using an autofocus DSLR, but after many visits to B&H PHOTO in New York, and through much thought,  I finally sold all my DSLR gear and plunged into the life of the  Leica rangefinder and never looked back. Shooting with a Leica taught me patience and pushed me to explore the deeper aspects of my compositions. Although Leica delivers the most beautiful natural pictures since my love affair with photography, I still often use flash to enhance many of my photographs esthetics, wether its to freeze a moment or exhibit the stress and anxiety associated with a composition.

Talk about the post-processing of your images. The contrast is pretty high and the color rendering is very precise, making the colors pop. What do you use and is there a process to obtain these results?

Although Leica delivers the most beautiful natural pictures since my love affair with photography, I still often use flash to enhance many of my photographs esthetics, wether its to freeze a moment or exhibit the stress and anxiety associated with a composition.

Looking forward, what other projects are in your horizon?

After giving much consideration into what my new project should be, I finally think it’s going to remain a personal story “Brooklyn Chronicles” an in-depth look at the lifestyles of inner-city kids and urban youth.

Based on your experience in prison and what you share about your days growing up in Brooklyn, do you think photography can be a way to inspire and improve people’s way of life? Or even maybe as an educational method to decrease mass incarceration or recidivism?

I absolutely think my story and photography will inspire people of all ages, it already has, especially younger kids with little or no resources. Photography is not only a way documenting historic events or making art, it can also be used as a tool to release tensions and anxieties, a way to make people around you happy as well as yourself.  It helps people speak to the world when speaking for a person proves to be difficult..

Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I never thought any of my photographs and story would resonate with others on the level it has, and now that it did, my hopes are to continue documenting, sharing, and exploring with the world through this fabulous medium. My hopes are to secure a place in the world of photography and to continue to prove how powerful of a tool it could be, perhaps through gallery shows, exhibitions, workshops, and grants I can continue further and deeper into my life’s passion.

Thanks Donato!

To know more about Donato’s work, please visit his official website and follow him on Instagram and Vimeo.

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