My name is Anthony John Coletti, and I’m a photographer based in St. Petersburg, Florida. I first became interested in photography around the age of 22, after high school and college. My first camera was a 35MM silver and black Asahi Pentax.
Video: Coletti narrates a selection of photos from a recent assignment in Bolivia by discussing his approach to photography.
My father was a hairdresser who was able to support his family with a successful shop in Swampscott [Massachusetts]. My mother was a housewife who raised three children. My family at the time was strictly working-class, but I did have a cousin who was in the Air Force and was a photographer. Getting any support for my vocation, though, was difficult at the time because of the realities of growing up around a very traditional home.
I did eventually meet a friend whose parents were teachers and more in tune with academia. He was photographing rock bands [which] required more technical efficiency and someone who understood how to take good pictures.
At the time I was also a voracious reader of all technical photo magazines, trying to absorb the technicalities of film, the camera, and especially lighting. The consumer magazines like National Geographic and Life gave me the dream of someday traveling to faraway places to take photographs. I was always trying to figure out how the photographer took the picture, and at what time of day.
I came to photography when black-and-white photojournalists such as W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier-Bresson were the standard. These two men were my first photography heroes because of their commitment to their craft and art. For color photography, my favorite was the New York photographer Pete Turner, who revolutionized color photography as an art form, especially in his travel photography and Irving Penn for his black-and-white portraits. Walter Bibikow is a Boston photographer who has been an inspiration to me for his help in learning about the business of travel photography and his unique ability to get great color photographs all over the world.
My sociology studies at Suffolk got me very interested in looking at other cultures and their social behavior and institutions. With my camera, I could go to a place like Latin America and try to tell a story visually about its culture. The camera has given me entrée into these different worlds that I probably would not have been invited to [otherwise]. Some of these photographs end up in textbooks and other visual media. It has been an educational tool for me.
Commercially, my approach to photography has changed over the years, but I think my style of shooting has probably remained the same no matter what the subject matter. Robert Capa, who was a famous war photographer and started the prestigious Magnum Photos, was quoted as saying, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” I always liked that. My favorite lenses have always been wide-angled, and you need to get close to your subject to fill the frame of the camera with these lenses. Photoshop has made the creative end of it a little easier, but I believe it all starts in the camera.
When photographing travel subjects, what is important is to try and capture a sense of place. Your subject matter could be people, landscapes or architecture, but there should be something that makes them special. I do a lot of homework on a place before I go there and carry pounds of paper. It helps me understand what is special about a particular place or culture, and I am able to make informed decisions, which result in better photographs. But always expect the unexpected. Sometimes my best photographs have come from just turning the corner.
These days, I believe my work is known for its vibrant colors, and Central and South American themes. I have always liked my subjects to have a definite shape to them by using early morning or late afternoon lighting, or finding an elevated view to isolate the subject matter. Dawn or dusk is my favorite time to photograph, especially in cities, when all the lighting, natural and man made, come together equally. I forget about all the hard work it took to get me to this point. I am totally in the moment, immersed in doing what I love.
I like to think of myself as a cultural messenger, with the photos encouraging people to visit these countries and not be afraid. Tourism does help their economies grow, and slowly maybe they can transition from poor to middle class as they promote what’s special about themselves. Not to get political, but the irony of Latin America is we are all Americans. They just happen to speak another language. To quote Mark Twain, “Nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.”