Clara Vannucci | Florence, Italy

Crime and Redemption-2.jpg

Hi Clara tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
I’m Clara Vannucci, an Italian freelance photographer. I work on assignments in portraiture, sport, corporate, travel, editorial, for magazine and newspaper like The New York Times, L’Uomo Vogue, Stern, Touring Club National Geo. 

The work that represents me the most are my long term projects - all related to the Criminal Justice System:

  • Crime and Redemption, documenting Volterra’s theater in prison company since 2007
  • Rikers Island, documenting the NYC’s Jail Battered women section and one of a prisoner’s family
  • Bail Bond. Bondsmen, defendants & bounty hunters. About the Bail Bond System in the US

You once said that as a child you wanted to become a Rock Star! What changed your mind to stand behind a camera rather than in front of a crowd? 
I think I sadly realized that I'm not such an interesting subject. I'm more fascinated by others people stories, that I find a lot more interesting. 

What does photography mean to you?
Photography and my camera allow me to enter into "others" lives. Even if it's just for a short time - I can mix their life with mine. Through images, I find a way to communicate with everyone, in every country. I think reportage is the best way for me to represent the subjects I photograph. 

Let’s talk about your longtime project „Crime and Redemption“, a reportage about the theater group La Compagnia Della Fortezza in Volterra. How did the idea to that project come up?
It all started when I was very young. I started to document the Theatre in Prison in Tuscany for the association OSA Teatro.  It was my first assignment - it impressed me very much. I visited so many prisons, from Juvenile to Maximum Security, but the one that really impressed me the most was the Volterra One. It was so different from the others, completely on another level. Prisoners were actors, and the impact was incredibly strong. The Volterra prison theater is considered to be a highly motivational therapeutic method of working with violent incarcerated offenders. Prison theater is about redemption. They learn a profession, they become actors, not only prisoners. They go on tour all around Italy and perform to sold out crowds. At the end of the show, they are escorted to the local prison for overnight.

Once I moved to NYC, I showed the pictures to Donna, she was really shocked and she pushed me to keep going there to shoot this incredible story. Of course, I did it. It became my first important project. 

It is rather unusual for a woman to work on different prison projects. Is there a specific intention?
No there isn't. It's just something that really dragged me into and I want to discover more about it.

Was there something you have learned about life in prison and the prisoners?
Of course, there are many different things you can learn from them. One, in particular, is how to sort out different solutions in daily life - like how to build an oven and cook an amazing cake with just three gas tank in a cell. 

You did an internship at Magnum Photo in NYC and assisted the documentary photographer Donna Ferrato.  What experience was it for you to work for Magnum and what was the most important thing you have learned during your internship?
The internship at Magnum has been such an honor. I was so excited. I didn't know that much about photography, and Magnum was the only agency I knew. When I arrived in NYC I had lunch with Paul Fusco, the Magnum Photographer, and Associated. He wrote me a letter of recommendation. I was the happiest person on the planet. The internship was mostly about to archive photographs and dealing with the negatives of the masters of photography. During that time I have learned a lot about photography history. 

During that time Donna Ferrato became your mentor. How important was this for you? Would you suggest to young photographers finding a mentor? 
I never went to a photography school. Being Donna Ferrato’s Assistant, for over 2 years, meant a lot to me. She taught me everything, like how to approach to people I want to photograph, to tell their stories. She’s definitely my mentor and my inspiration. She forced me not being lazy and carry my camera every day. The camera is the tool that now allows me to enter into other people's lives, even if it's just a short time.

Donna has been the best experience I could ever have and of course, I would suggest to any young photographer finding a mentor. It’s the best way to learn.

What is your creative process when you work on a project?
Often people contact me and want to tell their story, but I also look for ideas while I am traveling. I start to read something about the place I'm going to visit, and then I start to find little stories to tell.  For example, my prison projects felt like a chain - they are connected in a kind of a way to each other.  I started my project in Opera Prison in Milan and after the exhibition about it, I started with the Bail Bond projects. The Bail Bond project was born, because I was talking with a person about the Rikers Island One. And so on..

You’re from Italy-  Is there an Italian female photographer you really admire?
Definitely Letizia Battaglia! Her work on the Mafia in Sicily, it is a real photojournalistic document. Over the years she documented the brutal internal war of the Mafia and the assault to society. She actually co-won the Eugene Smith Award with Donna Ferrato in the same year. They are both revolutionaries.

Thanks a lot Clara for the interview!