Evocation, not documentary – inside Giulia Vanelli’s allusive shots of Tuscany

All images © Giulia Vanelli
This article appears in our 2023 Ones to Watch issue. Secure your copy via the BJP Shop, limited stock available

Drawing on her studies at Florence’s Academy of Fine Art – and a family history of image-making – the Ones to Watch winner’s The Season speaks to the region’s isolated, atmospheric landscapes

Giulia Vanelli grew up among “a family of travellers”, and remembers being drawn to photography from a young age. She longed to take pictures on their journeys, but her parents were hesitant to allow a child to rinse through rolls of expensive film. That changed on her 11th birthday when she received a digital camera. “I wanted to photograph everything,” the Italian photographer recalls. “In elementary school everyone wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman when they grew up, but I always wanted to be a photographer.” After high school, Vanelli studied photography at the Academy of Fine Art, Florence, and went on to teach there for four years. More recently, she discovered that her
great-great-grandfather was a photographer too. “I like to think it was always in my blood,” she says.

The 27-year-old’s approach to image-making is instinctive and spontaneous. Her photographs are gentle and delicate, filled with subtle visual symbols that are charged with meaning. The Ugly Duckling, for example, is a series ruminating on self-doubt and fear. “The project was born from the need to externalise an inner conflict,” she explains, referring to a period of her life where she struggled with self-esteem. “I wanted to visualise and analyse this human condition in an objective way.” The project was unplanned, the entirety of it emerging from long sessions of editing. “I had a collection of pictures taken at different times and places as a stream of consciousness,” she explains. “I understood that there was a connection between most of them, so I started to build a narrative.” 

Vanelli does not describe her visual approach as documentary, but rather as “evocative”. Her images are the result of an interpretation of a certain memory or a feeling, she says, rather than an objective description. Her nominator for Ones to Watch, curator Giangavino Pazzola, elaborates on this: “Her images have a high evocative potential and are enigmatic to a degree that leads not only to the aesthetic contemplation of the shot but also to the stimulation of immediate connections to the history of art and images.”

“The project was born from the need to externalise an inner conflict… I wanted to visualise and analyse this human condition in an objective way”

The same approach is also applied in her recent work, The Season, which will be published by Witty Books this year. The project is set in a small seaside village in Tuscany, where life is characterised by slowness, tradition and isolation. Vanelli has spent every summer there since she was born, and thinks of the place as her chosen home – “a piece of heaven where days roll into one another”. The images are intentionally unspecific, capturing small, fleeting moments that are universal. The idea is to allude to “the peculiar and strong relationship one person develops with these small realities, whether they are by the sea, in the mountains or in the countryside,” she says. “I almost always start from personal experience, but I try to treat it in a universal way so as to reach more people. I like when other people can ask themselves questions or recognise themselves in my experience through my visual narrative.”

Marigold Warner

Deputy Editor

Marigold Warner worked as an editor at BJP between 2018 and 2023. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Elephant, Gal-dem, The Face, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.