Photographer Speaks on Intersections of His Career And Queer Identity

Jacob DeCarli ’22, Managing Editor

Italy-based photographer Roberto Patella addressed two separate audiences of students and faculty in a formal lecture and informal discussion about his work and his identity as a gay Italian American man. 

Patella was born and raised in a small town of northern New Jersey. He attended Rutgers University of his home state and obtained an undergraduate degree in Italian Studies and later received a master’s degree in Foreign Language Education.

Associate Professor of Italian James McMenamin introduced Patella in the formal lecture. McMenamin and Patella grew up in the same town and knew each other through Patella’s older brother.

Old photographs of his Italian immigrant parents sparked Patella’s interest in photography. He later joined his high school theater department where he discovered his passion for art and said he “felt [an] intense desire to make things with my hands.” Through his early teenage years Patella started to question his sexuality with help from semi-nude pictures from various Abercrombie & Fitch magazines of the 1990s. 

After college Patella worked with American photographer Bruce Weber, the photographer behind those same Abercrombie and Fitch magazines, in fashion photography based in New York City. Patella described the differences of the photography between film cameras that he used in college to digital cameras he used with Weber. “Everything is on a screen now,” Patella explained “[we are] modifying the images’ uniqueness.”

A collection of Patella’s works is on display in the library. He described this collection as a six-year long project featuring pictures of Italian culture, portraits of celebrities, and nude portraits. In an earlier discussion with photography students, Patella was asked questions about his approach to photographing nude portraits. He described his photo shoots as “very intimate but [we] always remained professional” and that they were all about capturing the beauty of the human body. Patella said it is important to build trust when photographing nude portraits and that it is about “knowing yourself and knowing your limits.”

Throughout both the discussion and lecture Patella reiterated his passion towards his career. “A photographer’s job is not only to take the picture but to enter the lens,” Patella said and explained his dedication towards his career. 

The lunch discussion drew in an audience of roughly 10 students of photography and Italian classes. The formal lecture, titled “Finding Your Light: Artistic Creation as Archaeological Excavation” was well attended by 40 students and faculty members. Emma Stanford ’22 attended Patella’s lecture because of advertisements from her Italian professor in class. Stanford expressed her interest in his lecture and said she liked how “[Patella] talked about his life, and he also talked about his craft and art in a relatable way.” 

Other students reflected on Patella’s welcoming personality and lecture style. “He seemed very personable and easy to talk to,” Belle O’Shaughnessy ’22 said and explained that Patella’s delivery of information kept her engaged in the lecture. Gina Neigel ’23 also expressed her engagement in Patella’s lecture because his information was “really intriguing” and she was interested in “how he found his own light and how that influenced his own photography.” Neigel said Patella’s presentation generated self-reflection because “it makes you think of how you reacted during those time periods in life and how you faced adversity.”

The lunch discussion was held in HUB sideroom 204 from 12:00p.m. to 1:15p.m on Thursday, Oct. 10. The lecture was held in the Stern Great Room from 5:00p.m. to 7:00p.m and was sponsored by the Italian Department, the Waidner-Spahr Library, the Central Pennsylvania Consortium, the Department of Art & Art History, the Office of Global Study and Engagement, the Office of LGBTQ Services, and the Center for Advising, Internships & Lifelong Career Development, according to the Dickinson College Website. A reception followed the lecture. Both of Patella’s events correspond with various lectures and activities hosted by the college in recognition of LGBTQ History Month.