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Writing Poetry With His Camera Lens

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Leonardo Casali

Artist Leonardo Casali

Currently on view at the Miami Beach Cinematheque is a thought-provoking, multimedia exhibit including photographs and video called, “Pimpwaves.”  It’s the work of photographer and artist, Leonardo Casali, and it shouldn’t be missed.

Casali has used his camera to, essentially, capture nanoseconds in time.  It’s as though he’s frozen the moments that happen in between the actions of everyday life and offered them up for contemplation. Here, exposing a layer of depth that is often ignored.  He’s highlighted the minutiae, guiding us towards nuances that serve as allegory for a larger contextual story.

Art critic Valentino Cima writes in the text accompanying the exhibit, “The starting point for Leonardo Casali’s quest is that the true identity of things goes beyond what we see every day.”

What we see in this exhibit are various images of South Beach taken by Casali last winter. The images appear, in a sense, to be opposites.  Some are extreme close ups of the water, shot at a high shutter speed, which allows him to capture and reduce their rapid motion.  Others are scenes of the beach, barren except for one single beach hut or lone shed.  So, with some of the works you’re in the midst of the action, yet in others you’re observing from a safer distance.  This creates an intriguing rhythm.

Casali explains, “I took many of the photos during three full moons last winter on the beach at around one o’clock in the morning when the moon was very full.”

Having shot the beach at such an unusual hour, Casali show us one of the world’s most famous beaches in an entirely unique way. Gone is the sunshine, the joviality and the overall sense of the “good life” often portrayed in travel brochures. In these works, the beach is melancholy, stark.  Not without beauty, but this is not a confrontational beauty. It’s the kind of beauty that unfolds. 

Dana Keith, Director of Miami Beach Cinematheque remarked, “It’s a pleasure to expose his work to the South Beach public, accustomed to seeing the world’s most exciting beach in a much more commercial world of images.”

Casali’s South Beach is, decidedly, one, perhaps, for gentler souls — those that prefer to think beyond the surface.  And it’s refreshing to see his take on this beach, one that is so often associated with status and celebrity, because through Casali’s lens the beach becomes again what it truly is: nature.  The natural elements of light, water and sand are presented here as the esoteric.

Keith further explained, “I decided to bring this exhibition to South Beach because it is a different point of view to the typical on a very familiar subject. The beach and the water are South Beach’s most famous and most popular asset and attraction, but it has been rarely seen through the visionary eyes of an artist such as Leonardo. His approach and concept to a typical scene is poetic, elegant, and romantic at the same time, with great artistic merit.”


Untitled, 2010. Courtes of the artist, Leonardo Casali

Knowing something about Casali’s own adventurous lifestyle lends an understanding of what shapes his vision, and it’s always interesting to learn what drives an artist and what shapes his world.  Recently, he visited forty-two countries in a two-year period, travelling through Asia, South America and Africa, including visits to some of the world’s most dangerous countries, like the Congo.

Interestingly, he’s from one of the world’s most unique countries. San Marino is a tiny republic nestled in an enclave in the eastern corner of Italy.  And, a country no less, as Casali explained, that has the world’s oldest constitution and what must be a surefire method to counter corruption: it changes leaders every six months. 

It’s such a small country, too, that Casali joked about a visit to China where the airport officers sequestered his passport so they could pass it around to show one another because they’d never seen one.

Casali began working in fashion photography as a photographer’s assistant, first in Milan, and then in New York, learning his trade from industry leaders, such as Bert Stern.  Through this work he developed keen and quick skills of observation that served him well and led to assignments with top fashion magazines, such as Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Allure. He continued to work in fashion, photojournalism and portraiture working for top magazines in the U.S. and Europe and photographing many high-profile people, including Philip Glass and Carla Bruni.

“When you work for a magazine, you don’t have a lot of time, you have to quickly understand the person, especially if it’s a big rock star.  There’s a lot behind photography. You’re more like a movie director and a psychologist and you have to develop a relationship with the person so that you can get across the point you want.  Many times afterwards the person will look at the image and they will be surprised because they didn’t know that they could look like that.”

But, ultimately, Casali was unimpressed with the world of fashion and celebrity. Perhaps exactly because of the “psychological” and “directing” aspect of his photographic work, and perhaps also because of his penchant to delve more deeply into his subjects, he began making documentary films.  In 2007 he produced and directed, “Graças a Deus,” the story of the emigration from Italy and San Marino to Brazil in the late 19th century.  The film tells the woeful tale of the mostly illiterate immigrants who, expecting a better life, instead found themselves working in harsh conditions in coffee fields as replacements for slave labor at a time when slavery had just been abolished. (View clips from Casali’s documentary on his website at and more of his work can be seen here:

It was after tackling such heavy subject matter that Casali turned his attention to the quiet beauty found in stark moments in time. 

“I do a lot of reportage (a word used more commonly in Europe for what we in the U.S. refer to as photojournalism) and it makes you see things you don’t want to see.  These (photos of) waves in black and white…the reflections…these are much more enjoyable then some story of reality or drama.  In Italian we say ruffiano – meaning something that is universally appealing, that everyone likes.”

Thus the images in “Pimpwaves” are like visual poetry, truncated moments whittled down to bare essence.

Cima explained, “…he is an argonaut of observation in search of a different interpretation of reality. By bringing his instinctive vision of the world into play, he highlights the divergence between physical and psychological space and pierces the barriers of familiarity. The effigies of these images are washed up on the surface of a beach that reflects a new need in our perception of what we see.” 

And Keith shared a similar sentiment, “His talents in photographic arts are varied but connected. His feature films, video art, and photographs all have a haunting quality that puts them in a realm of a true visionary.” 

Up next: Casali is headed to Paris to exhibit some of the new works included in this show.  

Leonardo Casali: Pimpwaves is on view Monday through Friday from 11am till 6pm and before scheduled films at Miami Beach Cinematheque until June 29, 2011.  For more information about the exhibit, visit  For more information about the artist, in both Italian and English, visit  The exhibit is presented in collaboration with the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce, Southeast and the Societá Dante Alighieri Miami


Written by Jenifer Mangione Vogt

May 5, 2011 at 3:50 am

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