Hi, I'm Toti and I'm a documentarist photographer.

I was born in the South-East of Italy, in the town of Lecce, where I live and work. During the years I've been professionally involved in the most diverse aspects of the graphic industry, with particular reguard to the publishing field. I've held lectures, seminars and workshops with universities and high schools, especially about the photographic language, and exhibitions throughout Italy. As a photographer and writer I've published five books, for the types of several publishers. Although I prefer not to work on someone's behalf but rather on self-appointed projects, occasionally, pictures and articles of mine have been published in magazines. Today I manage my company, active in the industrial production of books but also offering several other services aimed to the printing industry, where photography plays a role too. But, aside from being part of my business, photography is much more for me: in a word, it's a necessity.

Below you'll find more details and info about me and my work. Should you, for whatever reason, feel the urge to contact me, you are most welcome: please, do so by using the form at the bottom of the page. 

Budapest 2018


In a sense, I never did: although I do work in the graphic industry and photography plays a significant role in my business, I never wanted to make a living "only" out of it. My major concern with regard to photography is to be free, but when you have to pay your bills thanks to shooting, you're not. That's why I don't work on assignment: most of the typical professional photographic fields are mortally tedious to me. So, if someone asks me to photograph "something" (e.g., socks, weddings, coins, gardens, all of which, and much more, I've been actually asked to), I want to feel free to decline, which is normally what I do. I couldn't consider photography "just" as a job, and that's what professionalism is all about. 

Not at all (not in this particular instance, at least). On the contrary, that's a precise compositional choice: when you look at a picture showing one's face, you could empathically participate in it, be it joy or anguish, beauty or loneliness, whatever. But one point is very clear: it's all about "that" person, it's not you. By removing that much too protagonist element, the human figure looses its identity and acquires a more general value, so that the viewer can participate to the scene in a "personal" way, also being solicited to put a meaning of his/her own in it. Simply put, it's just the way I like it and, all this conceptual blah aside, you may like it or not on your turn, is that simple.

It's hard to tell: when I started taking pictures I was much too ignorant about photography and its history; when I finally could consider myself a well read person about the matter, I had already developed my personal take on things. Anyway, sometimes I find myself before pictures that - I'm sure - should I've been there, in that precise moment, with the proper tool in my hands, I would have taken (or tried to take) exactly "that" picture. This happens with a handful of photographers whose work I feel somehow related with (Harry Gruyaert springs to mind first), even though I got to know their pictures much later than when I started photographing. Also, there's a list of photographers I wholeheartedly admire, but it's much too long to even get started with. (Ok, let's see, in no particular order: David Alan Harvey, Alex Webb, Jeff Mermelstein, Joel Meyerowitz, Ernst Haas, Fred Herzog, Saul Leiter, Constantine Manos,  Gueorgui Pinkhassov…).

I do.
Here is my self inflicted decalogue:

- I won't take:
1. pictures of street performers (musicians, mimes, etc);
2. pictures of people at work;
3. pictures of homeless, beggars or suffering people in general;
4. pictures of people using a phone (that's a tough one);
5. pictures of people being aware I'm shooting;
6. vertical pictures;
7. staged pictures;
8. pictures in burst mode (nope, forget about it);
9. ha, and no toddlers chasing pigeons, please.
0. Last unwritten rule: exceptions apply [excluding rule 7, no exceptions there].

Be a well read, knowledgeable person, study and fathom deeply and seriously whatever attracts you, whatever interests you, not only photography; then start shooting: pictures will come on their own. Learning photography is not a difficult task: I could teach to a beginner the basics of photography in no more than a couple of hours. But you want to learn the whole thing, right? Good, do so. Always remember, though, that every photograph, every single one, is a sentence, and knowing the whole dictionary without having something to say, is pointless.


Well, “The Europeans” was already taken, you know.
As for the meaning, it's a pun taken on loan from the musical jargon, suggesting that something "alive" and in "real time" has been performed: both expressions perfectly fit with my photography. 

The work is anything but done and possibly it'll never be.
However, for the time being, 300 shots have been selected out of about 30.000, mostly in digital and, no, they're not a lot, and much less so by modern standards. I ain't the kind of photographer who takes hundreds of thousands of pictures per month and, to be honest, I can hardly imagine how others manage to do so. I started photographing in the chemical era, when, no matter how large your bag was, you had a limited amount of shots available. This trained me to be VERY selective while shooting.

Q: may we have a look at those other 29.700 pictures?
A: nope, nobody can, not even my family and friends, and my hard-disks are programmed to self destroy on the day of my passing away. 

Travelling for me is a learning experience: it's not like you have your luggage ready and jump on the first low cost flight available. I plan my travels months ahead and try to fathom every possible aspect of the country which is about to host me: history, culture, geography... It takes time and devotion, and for a single continent, one whole life might not be enough. Then again, I'm European. Admittedly, there are other places in the world I would like to have a closer look at: I asked for another life or two; still waiting for an answer (I'm optimist).

That depends on several factors (including luck) but one of the most relevant ones is actually a legal issue: some countries (particularly in Europe) have a very restrictive regulation with regard to photographing in public spaces, to the point that candid street photography there, is an illegal practice: one is supposed to ask permission not only to publish or sell a picture showing a recognizable person, but also prior to shooting, which spoils the "candid" part in its entirety. That's why some countries (e.g. Spain) are depicted with few images, most of which are devoid of such implications. This is an objectively complex matter, also implying ethical and privacy issues. As a rule of thumb, and as far as the Western World is concerned, in Europe the right to privacy prevails, while in the USA freedom of expression wins.
Then there is luck.


  • FATAL MOMENTS - There's always a fatal moment, in the life of a documentarist photographer, when a picture in a barber shop has to be taken.
  • THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S EXISTENCE - If, in observing a picture, one manages to perceive, not the presence, but the very existence of the photographer, that picture has completely missed its purpose.
  • FLASHES - Photography is all about light: using a flash is like bringing your own food from home when you are invited to a dinner.
  • DIONYSUS AND APOLLO - Extracting an infinitesimal moment from the flow of the infinitely perceptible is a wholly predatory act, so instinctual as to be primitive, so rational as to be divine: it's as if the Dionysian and the Apollonian worlds clashed and deflagrated in a fraction of a second. No other human form of expression can do that, no painting, no video, no "spray and pray", only photography in its purest form can: one single shot. The resulting sense of satisfaction is indescribable.
  • THE PURPOSE OF PHOTOGRAPHY - The purpose of photography exercising itself on reality is to reveal an aesthetic in things, not to affirm an ethic: photography is much too ideological for that.
  • METAPHORS - The photographer is a link between an ontologically given reality (which, as such, is unattainable) and the endless metaphors that reality itself produces through perception, which is what we define reality, but it isn't. The result? One more metaphor; one hopefully worth looking at.
  • STAGED PICTURES - Staging a picture in order to make it look like a real candid shot is the same as faking an orgasm: lots of efforts and little to no satisfaction.
  • BE POLITE - Taking a picture for me is the same as asking a question, and I always try to do that as much politely as possible. Aggressive photography is not my thing.
  • DEFINITIONS - I never really subscribed to the definition "street photography"; also, I’m not a photojournalist, I’m not interested in documenting something that "is happening", but rather in something that would have never happened, hadn't someone taken its picture. As far as definitions go (though I don't really care), I like to think to myself as a situational photographer.


Images and Text © Copyright Toti Calò 2019 -2022

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