A fashion photographer in love with the land

If success has taken Federico Cannata to Milan and the upper echelons of the fashion world and fashion photography – he has photographed the likes of Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Edie Campbell, as well as worked with Alberta Ferretti, Emilio Pucci and Dolce & Gabbana among other big-name brands – his heart remains in Sicily.

It’s not only Americans who are frustrated at not being able to travel overseas. All over the world, citizens of other countries are champing at the bit, waiting to be able to travel far and freely again. For one young Italian fashion photographer, who is already enjoying success in his home country, a first visit to New York is right at the top of his post-Covid agenda.

But it’s not big cities that up until now have inspired Federico Cannata, so much as the place of his birth — Modica, in Sicily, where he still has a house and atelier and to where he returns frequently to work, as well as to recharge his batteries and reconnect with his family and his roots. 

Growing up in Modica — a perfect Baroque town, with the ravishing southwest Sicilian towns of Noto, Ragusa and Syracusa for neighbors — Cannata has always been fascinated by art and pictures. He was bitten by the photography bug at a very young age. “One of my teachers asked me to take pictures of some sculptures we were making in class and simply presented me with a camera and told me to get on with it. After that, I borrowed a camera, which belonged to my brother, and I went out and started taking pictures of the neighborhood.”

Although at the start he didn’t have a clue as to how his interest might develop, in his liceo artistico (a category of Italian high school, slanted towards the humanities,) he started to discover a way of incorporating all that he saw, all his visual perception, into his photographs. And into the mix he even added his own poetry, although his creative vision did not always find favor. (“No, Federico, the sky is not pink,” he would be pulled up by his bemused high school teachers.)

The result, at any rate, are multilayered, almost three-dimensional photographs, extremely complex in construction, although ironically, Cannata claims, one of the many things that drew him to photography over other kinds of art in the first place was the (mistaken) idea that a shot would take far less time to set up than making a painting.

He defines his work as “handwriting,” because “I assemble photography and graphic design in a single shot, in which titles, experimental poems (of which he is the author) and small short films become essential to tell a story.” Cinema, architecture, publishing, typography, the industrial world, art and design are all sources of inspiration, he says.

After school and still supported by his family, Cannata studied graphic design at the University of Catania and was already working commercially when his first really big break came in 2013. An ongoing search by Vogue magazine for new talent resulted in the publication of one of his pictures. He was still living in Sicily at that poin, and had indeed been submitting his photographs to Vogue for years, but they were always rejected. But when he came up with this particular black-and-white image of an alleyway in his Modica, “they went crazy for it.” For a fashion photographer to be published in Vogue was “huge,” he says, and as a result, apart from publication of that one photo, he was asked to submit an entire portfolio. This brought further recognition and opportunities. Not least, in 2017, for the very first time, he was invited to Fashion Week in Milan as an official photographer.

But if success has taken him to Milan and the upper echelons of the fashion world and fashion photography — he has photographed the likes of Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Edie Campbell, as well as worked with Alberta Ferretti, Emilio Pucci and Dolce & Gabbana among other big-name brands — Cannata’s heart remains in Sicily. “It is a land,” he says, “of a thousand contradictions and creative ideas.” With its atmosphere, colors and settings, it’s also a continuous source of inspiration.”

Among the projects of which he’s most proud is “Le Preghiere Fotografiche” (“Photographic Prayers.”) It was born during the first lockdown in Italy last year and has continued to evolve. The heart of the project are depictions of the Virgin Mary in the local Baroque churches, which he juxtaposes with pictures of models he takes in Milan during Fashion Week, a sort of Sicily-Milan cross-pollination. When I ask him if there is any resistance to these images in a society that may still be traditional in outlook, Cannata responds with a shrug. “No, not at all. The work has been really well received and appreciated.” 

Pressed to describe his style in a nutshell, he says it is “pop, with elements of the surreal.” To date, his work has been published in a clutch of Italian and European magazines, including Elle and Madame, as well as Elegant and Guild magazines in the United States and international editions of Vogue and Vanity Fair. And always promoting his beloved hometown,  he was honored to receive a Lions Club International award last July for banging the drum for Modica in particular and promoting Sicily in general to the wider world. 

Back in early April, when we spoke, Covid was still raging in Italy, with Milan more or less at a standstill — something Cannata found to be a paradox in what has long been Italy’s most forward-looking, most happening city. “People are actually fleeing the big cities now, going back to their small villages in the countryside.” But Milan, he stresses, is the city that drives the nation’s economy. Without its Fashion Week, without its Design Week,” he laments, “Milan is not Milan. “The situation just has to improve.”

As for what’s next, when the situation improves, like so many of us, regardless of where we are based or what we might do for a living, he’s eager to see the moment where we can all travel more easily, like we used to. But his greatest dream is to visit New York. Although he has worked with New York-based designers — the (Sicilian-born) jewelry designer, Marina Monitto, for instance, whose Seekelia website he designed and whose visual communication and advertising campaigns he developed and photographed — he has never visited the Big Apple himself. When he finally makes it over, he says, he plans to stay for a month, experiencing the adrenalin rush, soaking up the atmosphere and photographing in what he has always heard is New York’s unique light. 

In short, Cannata is preparing to enjoy life to the full again and in that he is certainly not alone.

For more, visit federicocannata.com.

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