Let’s go. The first trip, the first picture.
The first bicycle trip with Matteo, a childhood friend in the park of Rivarolo Canavese. We were cycling mornings and afternoons in the woods, along the boulevards, in the vineyard imagining trips on a planetary scale. Our bikes were the "motorcycles" and because "we were grown-up" we smoked hand-made cigarettes made out of hemp from old ropes.... And then I dreamed of pedaling along Afsluitdijk, a 30 km long dam built in 1932 that formed the Zuiderzee, the inland sea in the Netherands. Discovering it on a textbook at Primary school, I traveled along it back and forth in my imagination for 9 long years, until I finally rode it all in one go, against the wind. The first photo? Ascoli Piceno 1973 during a Sunday outing with my parents.
When did you decide to pursue this job?
In the exact moment I promised Enrico Nuzzo, a professor of Tax Law at the Faculty of Law, Federico II in Naples, on the occasion of my last examination, which was even harder than my long bike tour of Zimbabwe, that I would never practice in the legal field. This was the condition asked of me to “obtain” promotion, given the lack of enthusiasm with which I had studied the subject and my pathetic devotion. I felt intuitively what I really wanted on July 31, 1989 in the Icelandic wilderness, pedaling toward Askja: my life was to be on a bike, cycling on the roads of the big wide world, this I dreamed, felt, yearned for. I started taking pictures, thinking that that might become my vocation during the cycling trip in Iceland.
Your camera equipment?
Initially I worked with a Nikon. My first camera was an extraordinary FM. Since the year 2000 I switched to Canon equipment. Currently I use the 5D Mark II and when I’m pedaling I always carry with me a small 450D. I really like watching the world through wide angle, not from a distance but within a particular situation. I carry minimal equipment. Traveling by bike or by foot often I need to optimize weight and dimensions. Canon lenses 10-22 mm, 17-40 mm, 50 mm macro, 70-200 mm and 100-400 mm.
I have several. My Moots road bike is the one with which I feel more at home with. Built by Kent Eriksen, a wizard in titanium, but also one of the pioneers of mountain bike history. He lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in the woods, in a self-built house and is totally energy self-sufficient. The bike was built for Andy Hampsten, my friend who used to race. In the end he no longer used it for his last world championship (1995) and gave it to me for a few dollars. It has a fair age but definitely still has a “sexy” look. Then I have one other road bike, a mountain bike and three multi-purpose bikes built by two Italian craftsmen: Andrea Pesenti and Gianni Casati.
What is your relationship with technology?
I like everything that is simple and ingenious. The design is something that fascinates me but I use objects that provides the technology as a tool for my work. There is’nt an interest for the object in its own right.
How do you go about putting together a travel article?
Arriving on site with an open mind, ready to absorb everything that's around: perfumes, colors, sights, lights. Personally I like to make contact with people. I like to listen, read the words and study the eyes. Following roads and pathways. Being in the right place at the right time. Taking photos means being able to measure the light: the light is not necessarily always good. Indeed the best moments of light are usually sudden, unexpected. So it's important to be ready. Intuition helps as well as
experience. Here, therefore, planning a day's work is already a limit: The schedule usually follows a route but the best things happen when taking detours.
Writing is the same thing. I plan always a fitting time to take down notes, impressions, observations. But I regularly take notes at the most unexpected moments. The editing, once returned from a trip, requires a good critical mind. The make a choice of photos, paradoxically, forgetting the fact that I have taken those pictures myself. Personal involvement pollutes the choice that takes into account the relationship between the image and the viewer. For instance: a picture can mean something to me closely related to a time and a place where it was taken that is totally alien to another viewer. Therefore I try to be very detached when making my choices. I learned this when I realized that art directors and photo editors always chose the photos that I felt were less deserving of publication. It follows that others see a different photo than he who has actually taken it.
What’s about the relationship with your colleagues?
Definitely good. Everyone lives different stories but there is always interest in exchanging ideas, opinions, experiences. There is an esprit-de-corps and I like that very much.
What does it mean to be a freelance?
A freelance is by definition "alone". When you start down this road it is well known that honors and burdens, difficulties and satisfactions are a personal matter. Formally, we are journalists and photographers, but we have nothing in common with the journalist who works in the newsroom. Being freelance means to be good self-managers, knowing that the capacity for adaptation in all situations (travel, relationships, occupation) is an indispensable requirement. Insecurity is a constant, its the price of freedom to work following one’s own instincts. It takes energy and a positive spirit. Always ready to roll up sleeves, with enthusiasm, confident that commitment, application and passion all help to climb mountains and ride down quite arduous roads.
What’s about the relationship with publishers?
Excellent with those who speak frankly and clearly and respect the profession and the individual. Unfortunately it is not always the case but the intelligence of a freelance is to judge and understand who is worth working with and who should be avoided with care.
Have you shared work or travel experiences with other reporters?
Yes I have a relationship with Vittorio Sciosia and professional friendship that has lasted for many years. We both spent most of our lives in Naples. We met by chance and often we help each other in every possible way. We worked well together in the tunnels and the mysteries of Underground Naples. Our lives and our work run on parallel tracks. I have been living in Tuscany since 1999, and he has became a nearby "livornese" recently. And so now we read the “Vernacoliere”, we eat sandwiches at the “Barrocciaia” and our children speak with the very livornese "de". I’m in almost constant contact with other freelancers. I shared experiences with Enrico Fumagalli, a journalist and photographer who’se work I admire. Giorgio Roggero, a journalist and keen amateur cyclists. My preferred works are those of Paolo Simoncelli. And then Giorgio Mesturini and Luca Boetti, all belonging to the historic "team" of Itinerari e Luoghi (travel magazine).
The important people in your profession?
Calogero Cascio, director of Bici da Montagna and La Bicicletta. Few meetings and few words but always very important to me. The only publisher who spoke with the formal “lei” when I was 24 years old. Once he asked, "Caracciolo, what do you want to do when you grow up?" Answer: " Cycle around the world in three years." He said, 'Good idea, but then do not forget to pick a point, a place on the planet where to start from and return to. You need this so as not to get lost. I realized later what he meant.
And Paolo Fioratti, Director of Itinerari e luoghi, one of the most successful editorial ideas and appreciated by tourists and travelers. When I brought my first article (on the Amalfi Coast) he was able to tell me that the photos were not ideal but at the same time was sensitive to my state of mind. My disappointment was huge but he managed not to hurt my feelings which at that moment were very fragile. Photo by photo he told me with great sensitivity and clarity where and why they were not right. I returned to photograph the Coast and returned with a new set of photos, for me that was the most difficult and most important test for my degree. Fortunately I passed and then I put the same commitment into learning something new. I grew up with Paolo who made me understand many aspects of communications: simplicity and clean images.
And then Caroline Hamille, genius and recklessness, Director of Tutto Mountain Bike, a beautiful magazine delivered with style, flair and intelligence. She liked my pictures and told me once as she walked barefoot in the office: "Your photos have a soul. The technique is still immature but with time you will learn it. This sensitivity is a gift of nature that is not learned".
Finally Albino Marco Ferrari, first Director of my generation: we share the same passion for bikes, we have done interesting work together and he stood by me in a difficult moment of my life.
After many years of traveling what is the greatest treasure that you carry inside?
The treasure and wealth of chance encounters. Moments lived in company with other people then sharing experiences; moments lived between my inner silences and storms, therefore with myself. Places where I felt attuned with the energy of the elements and the deepest part of me, places that come to my mind suddenly during the day, perhaps while standing in line at the post office, while taking a coffee or when I'm falling asleep. I can "see" them as if in the present context. And then people encountered, perhaps known for a few minutes or hours that have told me, maybe without even realizing it, how beautiful life is and how one needs to be fortunate and skillful enough to live well. People who are very present in my sentiments, that I see frequently in photos burned onto the hard disk of my mind but especially within the colors of my emotions.
Special places and people?
Hagavatn e Dettifoss in Iceland. Lita and La Punta in Ecuador. Antsirabe in Madagascar. Grasmere Farm in New Zealand. Beech trees in Mount Amiata (Siena territory). Finis Terrae in Galizia. The “Cimitero delle Fontanelle” in Naples. And Chicken, Alaska.
The people that come to mind include Waine Eagle helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War met on the Taylor Highway in Alaska. Vittorio and Celeste Di Felice, “two rocks from Abruzzo” in Tasmania. Alberto Motosso, big and abundant with good humor but light souled, in Imperia. Marco Simon Calò, a leisure cyclist from Livorno in Iceland. Armando Baselica, a school friend of Fausto Coppi at Castellana. Finally, Regina in Rejkyavik, the only Icelandic that in the history of mankind has lived for six years in the incredible district of Sanità in Naples. And will remain the only one.
The your first bycicle trip?
In Corsica in 1982 at age 17.
The first article?
Iceland by bike, on Bici da Montagna, february 1990: 14 pages.
The best walks?
The Sentiero dei Fortini in Capri island, trekking Landmannalaugar - Thorsmork in Iceland and Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand.
The best road by bike?
From Sassetta to Suvereto, glorious gentle downhill bends. Roughly 13 km of well-being, harmony and fun with my Moots bike. On this road Andy taught me how to draw the most beautiful and difficult bends.
The most adventurous journey?
With Francesco when we left Ibarra, on the Ecuadorian Andes towards the coast to San Lorenzo. The road was marked on the map but there was no one who could say if it was really feasible. We asked 5 people on got 5 different answers. And then we left. We never arrived at San Lorenzo. Between breaks, landslides, one night with the Indios on a stilt house, our dream disappeared after 140 km. The road had never been completed. The return on the Andes train (which is now no longer) was even more adventurous, on the rooftop, having to duck our heads in the tunnels, drained by fatigue and dehydration.
The roads that are best fixed in your memory?
All of them.
The greatest fear?
Being swept away by the wind at the foot of Vatnajökull in Iceland. Never returning from the Islands of Vanuatu.
The greatest emotions?
The pilgrimage at Polsi in the heart of the Aspromonte range. The funeral Dance with the Dead in Madagascar at the Famadihana. La Fiesta de los Caballos del Vino in Caravaca de la Cruz, Spain. Pedaling from the Tirreno to the Adriatic sea with Elsa my daughter (she was just 2 years) in the bicycle trailer, arriving in Osimo near Ancona with her on the streets where I played as a child. It was a very powerful emotion.
What event do remember with pleasure?
“Ciclomundi”, the festival of leisure-cyclists. The square, bars, municipal salons of Portogruaro becomes for a few days a place of encounter and exchange between passionate travelers. They tell stories, present books. Mixed all together, writers and travelers get to know each other. The bicycle becomes a common thread symbolized by slow-movement and on all the roads possible, drawing countless routes on the planet.
“Fotografare Parma” was also a grand event, an initiative organized by NEOS, my professional association and the City of Parma; for 3 days, along with 26 colleagues, we photographed the city in complete freedom. Great fun, but above all an important opportunity for exchange and sharing with other photographers who you might meet more easily in some remote and random corner of the world. For three days all together, all different, and all linked by fascinating stories.
A book, or rather two.
Three. Piccolo Trattato di Ciclosofia written by Didier Tronchet. Minima Pedalia by Emilio Rigatti. Two small masterpieces. Emilio has also written L’Italia fuorirotta, a journey along lesser know roads and places. Wonderful idea.
How has your way of traveling changed?
No more long horizontal journeys. I don’t like the idea of wandering between two distant points of the map. I like the vertical style of travel. You can go very far remaining in the same spot. And you can travel within yourself, among people, even while resting on a chair. For example, dwelling for 5 hours at the Blue Bar in Formentera listening to the surf of the sea and Pink Floyd. Or an afternoon in the forge of Fabio Gonnella, blacksmith of Abbadia San Salvatore.
Why travel by bike?
By bike you can fly away, just take off. The road winds around the world horizontally, vertically for a journey within ourselves. And so the journey takes on a real value. The important thing is to go, discover, travel away from this artificial technological age where the body seems to have less and less of a function. There is no harmony in the monotonous movements of a common journey. The frenetic and compulsive chase to make up time makes me think of filling voids in the name of "efficiency". Inert bodies dependent on technology makes me think of the Isola dei Famosi (reality tv show such as Survivor) where dreams are ship-wrecked, or the sad exercise-bike, according to Didier Tronchet, the most famous bike-philosopher, who finds this "as exciting as a dead horse with all four legs chopped off”. If this carcass of a bicycle nailed to the floor had his eyes it would feel like a plucked Eagle in a cage. Pedaling on an exercise-bike is like surfing in a Jacuzzi. " No offense to lovers of spinning ... but traveling is a different thing”.