Photographing Sicily with Frank Di Piazza

We sat down with DITALIA’s photographer Frank Di Piazza to talk about his love of image-making and Sicilian culture.

Joe: Thanks for taking the time to do this, Frank! I’m curious, when did you start taking pictures?

Frank: Well I was always fooling around with my Dad’s cameras… and breaking them. But I think I got serious about it in 1995 or ’96, when I was in school. I was a film major but my minor was in photography. Photography was a good way to be creative on my own. I spent a lot of time in the library looking through old photography books. That’s where I found Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson and even Salvador Dali—he was a more than just a painter, he was a visual artist.

A photography by Henri-Cartier Bresson
A photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Joe: So what about photography really captured your interest?

Frank: Basically just a lust for life. As a kid I used to be around older men a lot. They were fun to be around and I knew they had some knowledge that’d do me good. They had lived, and I wanted to capture that life in them. I saw all these amazing photographs from all over the world of all these different people— I wanted to be a part of that.

Joe: It seems when you look at these pictures from Sicily, you see how your interest in photographing people and landscapes meet.

Frank: In Sicily I was really loose—I was with my family who I hadn’t seen in 10 years. With these photographs I wanted to break from the usual photojournalism, descriptive route and let my brain run free. I show mostly my friends, and how I see Sicily, as opposed to how Sicily is, per se.

Frank Sicily 1

Joe: In light of how you see Sicily, tell me about some of the choices you made with these images.

Frank: For me, once all the sensory information gets downloaded to my brain it kinda jumbles up together and certain things bubble up to the surface. A lot of the images are simply visually striking—there’s not necessarily a metaphorical point. With others there is a metaphor. There’s one photo with my nephew. He’s in the ocean and underneath him are stormy skies. He’s 13 right now going through a lot of changes.

Frank Sicily 2

For me, once all the sensory information gets downloaded to my brain it kinda jumbles up together and certain things bubble up to the surface.

These pictures are a very small slice of my time in Sicily. I spent so much of it with family, and did less exploring. The only time I ventured out is when I went to the La Vucciria in Palermo. So that’s how I approached my trip to Sicily—family first.

Joe: When you’re in Sicily, what’s exciting your curiosity as a photographer?

Frank: The mountains, first of all. I used to spend my summers in Sicily growing up, and the mountains were such a huge difference from New York. The mountains are sort of haunted for me. I can just imagine all the things that have happened in the solitude of the night up in the mountains.

Frank Sicily 3

I can just imagine all the things that have happened in the solitude of the night up in the mountains.

The second thing is the beautiful ocean. You’re so isolated in the mountains. I’m from a mountain town called San Giuseppe Jato—my parents and Vince’s parents both come from there. But we’ve subsequently spread out along the ocean. The juxtaposition between the mountains and the ocean in Sicily really resonates with me.

Frank Sicily 4

Joe: It seems like you like to play with these intensely saturated colors in your photographs. What inspires that choice?

Frank: I’ve always liked dense saturation as a photographer. Deep, rich colors are something that I’m attracted to. It’s an intensity that I have in my heart and soul. I’m pretty laid back, but I get intense about my art. It’s just the way I shoot.

Frank Sicily 5

I’m pretty laid back, but I get intense about my art. It’s just the way I shoot.

Joe: When you went out to the Vucciria Market in Palermo, you took a lot of pictures of the street vendors and shop owners. What piqued your interest there?

Frank: I like to think of them as nomads. These vendors probably move around from village to village and market to market, and I admire that freedom. And when you try to sell something you’re putting yourself out there—do you like me or not? Do you like what I make or not? It’s a very simple, direct way to communicate.

Frank Sicily 6

Joe: How did most people react to you taking pictures of them?

Frank: They really didn’t react at all. They’re so used to people taking pictures of them at this point. Which I liked. I guess some reaction would have been good—if I’d caught someone cussing me out that would’ve been pretty gnarly—but I liked how stoic they looked. Admittedly it was such a clichéd thing to do, but it was such a busy, beautiful market—I just couldn’t help myself!

To see more of Frank Di Piazza’s photography, visit his website here.