Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti has become well known for spending years working on long-term documentary photography projects worldwide, including his latest work, Toy Stories. Other projects that took him around the world include In Her Kitchen, My Couch Is Your Couch, and The Heavens. His work has been featured in many famous magazines, including National Geographic.
Gabriele Galimberti is, above all, a travel photographer, but his work highlights “normal people” including children, social situations, and cultural realities. His project titles Toy Stories took him worldwide to photograph children and their toys in different countries.
We sat down to talk to him about how he discovered his passions, what drives him, and how he researches each of his long-term works.
Tell us about what inspired you to become a photographer?
I started getting into photography when I was very young. My father, who is not a photographer, had bought a small darkroom and set it up in the garage. He enjoyed trying to print the photos he took of our family by himself.
I remember that I was often with him when he was doing these experiments and I loved seeing the black and white photographs that appeared on the paper when they were immersed in the chemicals. It seemed like magic to me, and I think it was in those moments that my desire to become a photographer was born.
Then, as I grew up, I thought I wanted to do a thousand other things: dentist, musician, architect, chemist, etc.
But around the age of 17, the idea of being a photographer reappeared in me, so I went to a photography school, and then slowly started my career.
You are now a full-time photographer, can you tell readers how long that took? And how you accomplished that?
I started working with photography when I was 20 years old, right out of school. At first, I was a studio assistant for other photographers, working mainly in commercial and fashion photography.
Then, in 2005 I fell in love with an American girl and moved to Texas for a few months. When I was there, I started using my camera to document what I was seeing, our travels, friends.
At that time I got into documentary photography, I felt that I didn’t want to work in photo studios anymore but I preferred to travel and tell stories.
I tried and believed, I felt it was a possible path and slowly I pursued it to get where I am today.
Favorite equipment to shoot with?
Advice for new photographers wanting to shoot documentary style?
The most important thing is to be curious, to look for stories everywhere. Often the best stories are right next to us, suggested to us by friends, relatives, neighbors. We must always keep our eyes open and our antennae up.
Then you have to photograph it, feeling free to use your own style, your own ideas. It’s important to try from the beginning to follow your own tastes and photographic style, without imitating anyone (although you are free to be inspired by others).
How has your work changed and evolved over time?
In the beginning, I experimented a lot, I was always looking for my own style and language… then over the years I slowly found it.
Now I recognize more quickly when I’m passionate about a story or not, and as a result, I can quickly decide how to photograph a particular subject.
In the early years, my style was also a bit more “dirty” and confusing… then I realized that I love to put order in my images, to photograph in a clean and direct way. I like everything to be clearly visible and lit, trying to give importance to every single detail in the image.
What’s one thing you would go back to tell your younger photographer self?
Don’t try to be the photographer you’re not, and you’ll save 2-3 years of trying.
Tell us more about your Toy Storie Series.
I started my TOY STORIES project almost by chance! The first photo that I took of this series was in Tuscany. The girl with the cows in the background. She’s the daughter of one of my best friends. My friend asked me to photograph her child. So I went to their house and she was playing with the cows. I thought that situation was really nice and I decided to take the photo of her there, with the cows and together with her toys.
Then I really loved the result of that photo and some months later, when I had the possibility to start my trip around the world I decided to take the same kind of photo in every country that I was going to visit.
I had the opportunity to travel all around the world for more the two years because at that time I was working for one of the major Italian magazines – D La Repubblica – I was doing a project about CouchSurfing for the magazine. So, I traveled in 58 countries only using Couchsurfing. Every week, I had a page in the magazine to report my trip. I was publishing a portrait of the couch surfer that was hosting me that week and his/her story – I was also writing the stories.
All the children that I have photographed are somehow connected to the couch surfers that have hosted me along my long trip. They are their children, their nephews, or simply their neighbors.
How do you come up with new photography stories and ideas for your work?
I don’t really have an answer for that… I find my stories and projects a bit by accident, always remaining curious and attentive to the things that happen around me and the stories I encounter.
Any new projects, courses, or books you want to share with readers?
I am working on a new project about the relationship between humans and the planet, but it’s still too early to share something about this.
Check out the books by Gabriele Galimberti and the latest updates on upcoming projects on his Instagram and Website. If you are interested in learning about other photographers, enjoy these articles:
Interview with Landen Kerr
Interview with Sean Bagshaw