Former Prisoner Turned Photographer Inspires With His Special Work
Most of us have felt invisible or insignificant at some point in our lives. But imagine feeling that way every single day. As a former prisoner turned photographer, Donato Di Camillo certainly knows how it feels to be a social outcast. And the story of how he embraced photography in jail as a means of turning his life around is inspiring all on its own. But now, he’s using his artistic talent to give a voice to those most often forgotten by society. And it’s truly remarkable!
Former Prisoner Turned Photographer: A Rough Start
Donato grew up in a blue collar family in what was once considered the “Little Italy” of Brooklyn. Inspired by the copies of National Geographic magazines his father collected from an old lady in the neighborhood, Donato would run around the house with his family’s Polaroid camera. They couldn’t afford film, so he just pretended to use the camera. But he never dreamed that one day he’d actually become a photographer.
At the time, the neighborhood where Donato grew up had an element of organized crime.
Back then it was just, I want to drive a brand new Mercedes and I’m okay to do what I got to do to do it,” he said.
It wasn’t long before Donato was getting into trouble himself. And it was a lifestyle that eventually landed him in prison. Which, as it turns out, was right where he needed to be.
It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. It gave me time to think about who I am,” he said. “I wasn’t a villain. I wasn’t these things that I made up in my head—I was a loving guy, I care about people.”
Former Prisoner Turned Photographer: Turning It Around
After his release from prison, Donato still had three years of probation and house arrest to serve. But he spent the time wisely, using Youtube tutorials and photography blogs to learn the skill of operating a camera. The resources taught him the mechanics, but the artistic talent came naturally.
Former Prisoner Turned Photographer: A Heart For The Forgotten
As a result of his rocky past and the time he spent reading psychology books in prison, Donato found himself drawn to street photography. There, he found what he calls “the fringe” — the homeless, mentally ill or sometimes just those with a vivacious personality.
These people walk around, and they’re faceless,” he said. “I feel that everybody deserves a face.”
Many of Donato’s subjects are used to being ignored because of their differences from what society sees as the norm. But what Donato sees and vibrantly captures in his photos is the loveliness in diversity.
I love the amazing differences in people and how beautifully unique we all are. Good bad or indifferent,” he explained.
For Donato, the National Geographic images intrigued him as a kid, and then again as an adult, because they were a window into another world. Similarly, his own work exposes a completely different world. It’s just one that isn’t far away. It’s all around us, but many are simply oblivious to it or choose to ignore it.
Former Prisoner Turned Photographer: Giving Back
Which makes Donato’s work so much more than a passion — it’s an incredible gift to those he photographs. He’s reminding them of their value and beauty as individuals.
I want [my subjects] to understand that the reason I’m photographing them is because I see something in them that I see in me, or that I think the rest of the world could relate to,” he explained.
And that’s what makes Donato’s photography so inspiring. The art itself restored his hope, pulling him from a destructive path. It’s a reminder that it’s never too late to find what you love doing, and to put it to use for good.
But just as important is the fact that his art isn’t really about the people viewing it. In fact, he accepts that there will be many who won’t get it. And that’s ok. Because, for him, it’s really all about respecting and honoring subjects.