Capturing a moment and immortalising it on film, with the rise of the camera phone, is easy for more or less anyone, but how to take a photo that really means something? That takes skill, time, appreciation for the composition of the image, with its colours and its contrasts, and a real understanding of the subject.
“It’s easier to take pictures when you know something about your subject, when you know something about their life,” Naples-born photographer Eleonora D’Angelo explained to me. To capture emotions in a photograph, to really get below the surface and give depth to a picture, you need to build a relationship with the person you are photographing.
Photography turned from hobby to profession relatively recently. Eleonora first trained as a doctor (her parents, doctors themselves, were keen she followed suit), but her newfound career in photography is clearly going very well. She’s drinking coffee when we chat over video call one summer morning and enthusiastically shows me the tiny espresso cup. But it’s not just coffee that is the subject of her infectious enthusiasm. When we move to talking about photography, I can’t help but feel just how much she loves it. She first started taking photographs seriously thanks to her boyfriend, a fashion photographer who encouraged her to explore her photographic talent. She’d previously balanced her medical degree with jobs taking photographs of friends’ weddings; that was five years ago, and since then she’s shot fashion and advertising campaigns all over the world, including for Vogue Italia.
On a recent photoshoot with Italian actress Betty Pedrazzi, who starred in the 2021 Paolo Sorrentino film È stata la mano di Dio, Eleonora explained to me how she went about capturing Pedrazzi on film. “The day before, we got an aperitif and after that, I went to her theatre show, the reason she was in Naples. And then we went to dinner together. And then we did the photoshoot. And this was very, very, very important to feel connected with her and with the pictures. The pictures after our time together were very, very, very easy.” Pedrazzi is approaching 70. With her age came a wealth of stories and a specific type of openness in front of the camera. “She gave me all her life, her experiences, and tales about her weddings, movies, directors and secrets. We shot her in a typical, old Napolitan house with coffee and sfogliatelle. It was a magic moment,” recounted Eleonora. “It was like I was waiting for a person like her in my life, and now we are friends.”
Pedrazzi’s age made her all the more appealing to shoot, and Eleonora admitted that she likes to photograph women on the extreme sides of life–in particular older women, children and teenagers. The way a photographer takes a picture can influence how the subject is seen, and a well-taken photograph can convey a person’s personality and showcase their beauty, however confident or not they may be about their appearance and their age. Photographing older women is “probably the most wonderful sensation for me,” Eleonora said. Having skills with a camera has allowed her to “give back beauty to older women.”
“I try to convince [my subject] that she is beautiful, that she can still give something to someone, that she can still feel beautiful, feel comfortable, feel confident.” Eleonora wants every woman to feel confident through her work.
Shooting younger people is slightly different. For Eleonora, her method is less about making them feel beautiful and more about acknowledging their lack of self consciousness and conveying the emotion of their “firsts”. First island summer as a teenager; first romance; first emotion-fuelled experiences of youth, paused for just a moment and remembered as a picture. I asked her for her favourite memory of photographing youth and she recounted: “I remember a scene in Stromboli last year. Some children, boys and girls, were playing on a rock in the middle of the sea and behind them there was Strombolicchio, that little famous rock, and it was a very emotional scene. I really love and am really attracted to this particular youth scene. When they are playing, when they are at the beach with their friends, when they are kissing in Naples. These first times.”
“When I see these scenes, I feel very emotional, and it’s kind of like going back to my past and living my youth again.” And it’s true, her photographs stir up a host of memories in me too. Memories of hazy summer days, school holidays, day-long friendships and the now rose-tinted phase of early adolescence, late childhood and even times as a university student in Italy, when everything seemed fresh and exciting.
One of her pictures in particular spoke to my early years in Italy. It’s a bird’s eye view of a group of teenagers, two boys and three girls, sprawled out across the black Stromboli beach. Their bronzed bodies are intertwined, sky-blue towels strewn around with pairs of stray flip flops dotted here and there. It reminds me of carefree Italian summers and the novelty of the seemingly endless sunny days, hanging out in groups of friends and joking around with the boys. The way our skin turned golden brown and the strands of my (usually) brown hair turned bleach blonde. The way nothing mattered more than what was happening right there in that moment, the magic of it all happening for the first (or one of the first) times. Eleonora’s photograph brings me back to these sensations.
Maybe it’s the lighting, maybe it’s the knowledge of her subjects, maybe even just the colours Eleonora seeks out, but whatever it is, the magic of first times is caught on her camera and boldly presented in her images. I’m reminded that the shoots are not improvised (although some of Eleonora’s photographs are). That said–with the charm and spontaneity you feel when looking at the photographs–it certainly seems as if they could be.
So where are her favourite locations to shoot? Stromboli is high up on the list “because the black volcanic rock, mixed with the blue sea, presents a very strong contrast,” she says. “It’s very important to me to use vibrant colours in my pictures.” Stromboli, with its rugged and authentic landscape, fulfils this desire for raw distinction. “The black beach, the black mountains, the black volcano, and the blue, the intense blue of the sea… Also because the people, the skin, the human body on the black beach and mountains makes for a very striking contrast of colour.”
Being near the sea is a must too, and Eleonora confesses that she “can’t live” without it, but as she hails from Naples, this is hardly surprising.
From her balcony in Campania’s capital (the bustling sounds of the city actually made it over the video call to me in London), Eleonora talks to me about future plans. Moving into directing films is high up on her list, and she’s currently taking a course in cinema. With her eye for attractive composition, ability to convey emotion through her camera, and photography inspired by a host of great Italian directors, a move in this direction would seem like the natural next step. If the emotion conveyed through her photography is anything to go by, a film would be a treat indeed.