Giulio, tell us about your journey into photography...
Like most people, I began taking photos in my early twenties, mainly with friends or during trips and vacations, but I was never really serious about. In my thirties I had lots of people telling me my shots were really nice, but I always thought they said that because they were my friends. Then, in 2003, I moved from New York, where I lived and worked for six beautiful years working as a TV producer, to Kenya, and that's where my passion for photography blossomed. However, even then, working as a documentary film maker on humanitarian projects, I did not consider photography my main way to express myself or document the world around me and I did not consider my shots good enough.
Finally, one fine day in 2005, a Communication Officer working for UNICEF saw some of the shots I took during my assignments in Somalia and elsewhere and asked me if she could purchase them to publish on the UNICEF reports she was responsible for. That was a boost! She was not my friend (later she became one) but she was willing to pay a good amount of money for them so I thought maybe my shots, at the end of the day, were actually not that bad. I started focusing more, studying photography, practicing more, and slowly by slowly photography became one of my main activities…today the most important one.
Tell us more about your time in Africa and the work you did there...
As I said before, I arrived in Kenya in 2003, after six years in New York, where I continued my career as TV producer, started in Italy in 1988. If it was a cultural shock going from my hometown Rome to New York, moving from the Big Apple to Nairobi, Kenya was an existential switch!
Almost as soon as I arrived, I opened a production company called Canvas Africa Productions, with the idea of using my fifteen years of experience in production, in a country that was starting to open up in the media business.
Then, in 2004, almost surprisingly, I was hired by UNESCO as a media and communication expert for a project in Somalia on civic education through Radio Programs. That was my baptism of fire with rural and post conflict countries, and with very difficult situations. It was amazing and a great learning experience! I learned how to approach people, how to photograph them without getting in trouble, how to be patient and read and understand situations. When the project finished, two years later, I worked briefly for ILO, still in Somalia, but this time to document their projects in the country through Documentaries and Photos.
From that point on, I worked as Director Producer of Canvas Africa Production, to produce documentaries and photo reportages on the humanitarian projects implemented by all major UN Agencies and International NGOs in Sub-Saharan countries. In this capacity, through their assignments I travelled fourteen different nations, going to the most remote areas and regions, mainly tackling those issues related with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), today Sustainable Development Goals: Education, Health, Labour, Poverty Eradication, Sexual Gender Based Violence, Women Empowerment, HIV and Aids, Migration, etc.
Some of the photos shot in those years also became material for five different exhibitions held in various prestigious venues in Nairobi, at the Lagos Photo Festival and even at the Biennale di Venezia.
In 2015, when I returned to Rome, after twelve years in Africa, I realized I had grown a lot as a photographer but even more as a human being. Now I am able to exercise useful reality checks, put things in perspective, and relate to others, all others, as their peer, having lost lots of prejudices and damaging mental walls.
Do you have a favourite photo that you took in Ethiopia?
Allow me to pick three as it is truly hard to pick one among the many I truly like!
I love this photo because it shows a woman, an elderly woman, with dignity and respect, without focusing on her being an “indigenous” from a traditional tribe, but as a true person. Plus, of course, I love the serene and hopeful look she has in her expression.
This is one of the things I like to photograph the most: the pure and magical joy of life as only the innocents can experience.
I love this one too, because it represents what I have largely witnessed all across Africa (maybe the same is valid all around the globe): A resilient woman facing a very hard situation, and still standing tall and strong, carrying and protecting all her belongings and treasures, moving forward… always forward.
You have managed to combine your passion for photography and travel into a business, tell us about your Rome Photo Fun Tours...
I went back to Rome in 2015, for good (even though I am always hoping to start new chapters in my life through new countries and new experiences). In 2016 I worked for an NGO on a campaign focusing on the need to provide education services for migrants. In 2017, I decided to restart my own business as a creative freelancer, or, better yet, as the boss of myself.
Things must be done slowly and seriously so, I started freelancing for a company that was offering photography workshops and walks in Rome. I freelanced for them for about two years, acquiring the specific kind of experience that this trade needs, and in 2018, I founded Rome Photo Fun Tours, with which I provide eight different kinds of photo tours and workshops in Rome, one in Tivoli and, upon requests others in Tuscany and Puglia. They are all run by me, and they are all for individuals or very private groups.
The business picked up quickly and in an extremely and very satisfactory manner, was always receiving long five stars reviews from all the clients I had. I was looking to expand my reach and market myself and my company even more, so I joined CATO, an organization of Australian Tour Operators, placing my ads on their publications, and I was about to do the same with other similar organizations in the US… Then Covid-19 happened, and we all know the consequences.
I dealt with the situation first of all by placing articles and advice on my blog, to update people on what was happening in Italy and how to cope with the situation. I then creating five different photography webinars, three of them are photo tours in Rome, one is on Photography and Mindfulness and one is a fascinating trip to go visit, online, some of the most amazing traditional tribes of Africa.
Excio members will soon be invited to take a virtual Rome tour with you, what can they expect?
Participants will enjoy a two hour photography tour around Rome, organized in a presentation composed of images taken in the course of many days and nights in the Eternal City, showing the city almost around the clock. The philosophy of this tour is “if you cannot come to Rome, Rome Photo Fun Tours will come to you!
As in my offline pre-Covid walks and workshops, we will start from Castel Sant’Angelo, move to St. Peter’s Square and Church then, moving through the back streets, we will reach downtown Rome and visit the most iconic squares, monuments, churches etc. until we arrive at the Colosseum and the Roman Forums.
Thanks to it being a virtual tour you will also experience almost all the same locations but at night, through a view on Rome from sunset to sunrise. The photos will be accompanied by some art and history information in order to provide the viewer with a sufficient understanding of the reason why Rome is called La Citta’ Eterna, and why it was declared “Citta’ Aperta” (Open City) and spared from being bombed during WWII.
I hope such a tour in these times of travel constraints will help people to fly internationally again one day soon and to enjoy one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
What camera equipment should a first-time visitor to Rome pack in their carry on?
It depends on the photographer’s level, but nothing cheap in any case…. It would be a pity to travel from the other side of the world to collect low quality shots.
I would travel with the following:
1. Camera of medium high level
2. Three lenses covering a) a good wide angle/zoom e.g. 16-85mm, b) a nice medium zoom 70-200mm and c) a nice prime lens, possibly a 35 or a 50 mm
3. A resistant but light tripod
4. Two optional items, not strictly necessary, are an ND filter to photograph fountains and a polarizer to balance the dynamic range and get beautiful skies.
Where should visitors go to get off the tourist trail and experience the 'real' Rome?
Well, I do wonder if the real Rome, the one I knew when I was a child and teenager (in the 1960s and ‘70s) still exists. In the pre-Covid years, Rome, like Florence and Venice, lost lots of its authentic charm, being always crowded with tourists.
PreCovid I would have taken you to a couple of neighbourhoods where buildings are embellished by amazing murals, through the back streets going from Castel Sant’Angelo, passing through the Jewish Ghetto and arriving into Trastevere, along the way visiting the artisans’ shops. Most of all, though I would recommend visitors to experience Rome’s beauty at night.
The situation has dramatically changed now though and a visitor coming Summer/Autumn 2020 (and probably also still in 2021) will likely find the places that were once totally overcrowded, populated only by few people which makes it perfectly enjoyable somehow.
Where can we view your work online?