I eat a lot. A lot of pasta [laughs].
Is that the secret?
Yes. The Italian secret!
I’m on a video call with photographer Chiara Redaschi but have to pause while she catches her breath. With her phone unable to connect, she’s just run across town to sit on the terrace of her boyfriend’s restaurant where the WiFi is better.
“I live near Milan but I’m spending the summer here in Tuscany. It’s a little town called La California not far from the sea and when I’m not taking photographs, I help out in the restaurant. Lots of seafood and Italian classics like spaghetti.”
With a body of work that combines dramatic vistas with emotionally charged images of faces that fill the frame, now that Chiara’s heart has stopped racing, I ask whether growing up with artistically inclined parents helped determine her own creative path.
“In many ways it was kind of normal for me. My Mom would paint outside on the terrace and my Dad and his brother were both interested in photography. My Uncle passed away when I was 11 but I do remember that he was very experimental—much like an artist. And this might sound a little silly but when I started making my own photographs, it felt like my Uncle was continuing to express himself through me. Like a book with chapters and I’m carrying on the writing.”
Growing up in Novara in the north of Italy, as a teenager Chiara would skip school to soak up the atmosphere of nearby Milan and Turin—the energy of these urban environments finding an outlet in her first runway images shot in the style of a street photographer.
“I was studying a degree in Artistic Management but an internship with a fashion brand made me decide not to go back. The designer told me they needed some pictures taking and then I spent the summer travelling across Europe following the fixed gear racing circuit with my camera. Before I knew what was happening, photography was my job [laughs].”
Hands rarely still as her movements punctuate each sentence, Chiara describes how these first formative years working for a fashion house still influence her current style of photography.
“Researching a shoot for a cycling brand, I’ll often include elements of fashion photography. I love their crazy viewpoints—how they position the models and sometimes add something into the frame to help tell a story or convey a particular emotion.”
Describing herself as instinctual and less of a planner, being present in the moment and getting in amongst the thick of the action is Chiara’s preferred style of shooting—an approach she recently adopted when she was following the Trans Balkan Race.
“You’re so remote – in the middle of nowhere – and then you spot a rider in the distance. And it’s so amazing to be out there, capturing these moments. To me, it feels…[Chiara checks her online translator]…like a magnet! A sense of attraction that’s particularly strong when I take a portrait. All that emotion etched on a face—when I see this, I have to take a picture. I can’t just stand and watch. It’s stronger than me.”
Travelling extensively for her work – Chiara can be packed and out of the door in 30 minutes – this sense of movement reminds her of childhood summers spent visiting Spain and Portugal with her parents. But time spent in Novara is also precious and acts as a counterpoint to the inevitable stresses of a life lived on the road.
“When you’re constantly on the move – something I love to do – you rarely have time to process everything that you’ve done. So home is where I take the time to stop and reset. I open the door and breathe out [Chiara sighs deeply]. I spend time with my parents and visit my grandma. She’s 103 years old and we do the usual Italian stuff—talk, eat and talk some more.”
Sandwiched between work trips and family time, riding her bike is another passion Chiara loves to indulge. So when she’s not at the restaurant, summer days in Tuscany often involve a gravel loop with time to stop and enjoy the view.
“I have my phone but rarely carry a camera. It’s good for me to not always be thinking about taking pictures. And I feel safe away from the cars when I’m riding off-road. In Tuscany we have our white roads so why not [laughs].”
Relishing time spent outdoors, Chiara illustrates this sensibility with a story from a recent photographic assignment in the mountains to the north of her birthplace. Standing by the roadside, taking pictures on the Gavia Pass, a butterfly passed so closely to her ear that she heard the flutter of its wings.
“It was such an amazing experience and it still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.”
A description that leads me to ask whether, when pressing the shutter, Chiara ever has an inkling that the stars have aligned in one particular shot?
“I photographed Petra on this year’s Transcontinental as she arrived at a checkpoint. At first, the riders passing through were racing but later there was a switch to those that were simply fighting to keep on riding. And when I saw Petra – riding alone in the middle of the night – her raw emotions affected me so deeply. I’m crying now, thinking about it. I could feel the pain, the emotion, and I knew that shot was good.”
Pausing a moment – the birdsong of her terrace location a stark contrast to remembered times of mountain tops at midnight – Chiara gathers herself before explaining how she sometimes needs to stop and take a breath when she’s working. How it can be so emotional that her hands start to shake.
“But I know that I have to keep going because I want to capture all these moments—a record of what I see and feel. And I’m laughing when I think it’s my job because it never feels that way. It’s a part of me that was always there. I took my first photograph in Venice when I was five years old with a Barbie camera. And I wouldn’t be doing it as a profession if it was just a way of paying the bills. I want to enjoy what I’m doing—to make something that will last forever.”
All images with kind permission of Chiara Redaschi / chiararedaschi.com