Distinctive atmospheres and visions – but also touches of noir – characterize the settings and portraits of people that feature in the work of Vittoria Campaner, a twenty-seven-year-old director of photography who hails from Venice, Italy, and has lived in the USA for years, first in New York, then Los Angeles.
She boasts a rich, multidisciplinary background with its origins in the fashion world – she studied at Parsons the New School for Design, New York. She went on to graduate in Cinematography at UCLA – University of California, Los Angeles.
In her years in New York, she has collaborated on the production of commercials, videos and shorts, initially as stylist, costume and production designer, and later as gaffer, the person responsible for lighting and following the director of photography’s guidelines in a movie, seeking to bring to life his/her vision on the set.
In 2015, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a Master at UCLA; here she gained greater versatility, allowing her to extend her range from cinematography to film directing, using various artistic languages, with a style informed by profound expertise and adept use of mixed media.
Vittoria Campaner has worked internationally and made films in Italy, France, Norway, China, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago and in the USA. In 2020, she was selected as a Cinematography Fellow for Film Independent’s Project Involve. She has also worked as DP in countless video art installations, including at the Larnaca Biennale (Greece) and Femmebit Art Festival (LA).
Dye Red, (trailer) written, directed and photographed by Campaner
She has also branched out into directing: Dye Red, 2020, is a short film, written, directed and photographed by Campaner. It won Best Experimental Narrative Short Film at the 51st Nashville Festival.
Her cinematographic work has been featured in many international film festivals, including Palm Springs International ShortFest, Rhode Island International Film Festival, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and the Bogotá Short Film Festival.
Campaner’s cinematography is suffused with an impalpable, delicate, yet at the same time refined, charm: her images do not have a strikingly bold impact but rather languish in silence and stillness, allowing themselves to be discovered, to the point of capturing every filament of light existing, but, simultaneously, being bright enough to allow the observer to experience the narrative and assess the identity of the people portrayed.
From a Distance, short film, 2020; Director Liang Zhao, Director of Photography, Vittoria Campaner
Her frames are distinguished by an elegant contemporary realism, with still images that take us into atmospheres characterized by fascinating, dreamlike undertones. The style is sophisticated, but deliberately informal. Though always original and intense, there is never any sense of contrivance or artifice – it is extremely direct and prompts reflection.
Intrigued, I decided to interview her last January via internet. I discovered she is incredibly young, even though her resumé reads like that of a seasoned professional.
Professionally speaking, how would you define your role as director of photography?
It is the person who deals with all the aesthetic and technical aspects of photography: lights, framing, camera movements. He/she brings the director’s ideas to life and creates the atmosphere from a visual perspective. It’s a creative and artistic job, but it’s also highly technical.
Do you think it’s an intuitive kind of work?
Every project has its own identity, so I’m absolutely convinced that the main role of the director of photography is to intuit the emotional aspect required or, at least, intended by the director, and to then set the stage to the best of his/her abilities.
Hygiena, short excerpt video installation – Artist, Amanda Vincelli, Director of Photography, Vittoria Campaner
You started off by studying fashion and design. How did your interest in cinematography come about?
I’d say… it was literally… love at first sight! It came about a bit by chance: one afternoon, working on set, I noticed a massive, tall camera and saw for the first time a woman operating the camera, which moved around to capture the light – something that only she knew how to capture, to present to the spectator. In short, I fell in love with that job and with the act of seeking, creating, an eye-catching effect – whether hidden or obvious – in every scene.
Is there any movie that particularly struck you? One that somehow paved the way for your career?
I guess so. Some movies I watched as a kid influenced me imperceptibly. One classic is Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso” (1988). Even though my memory of it has faded, I’m sure it had a strong influence. And I must have seen “A Little Princess” (1995) by Alfonso Cuarón a hundred times when I was a little girl. More recently, I was struck by a little-known film entitled “Mercuriales” by Virgil Vernier (2014), very interesting in its use of 16mm film and oneiric quality, but also in its portrait of a simple friendship, without dramas or demands, a subject that’s very close to my heart.
Do you have any role models or people who have meant a lot to you in your training?
I think I have really diverse tastes. I’m attracted to the work of directors like Pedro Costa, with his intense chiaroscuro effects, where the characters wander among shadows, and you with them; also, the work of directors of photography like Hélène Louvart, who has worked with Alice Rohrwacher on all her films; I love her naturalistic style, steeped in a veiled sense of mystery that is also hidden in her characters. Clearly, there have been many, many other influences, which obviously mutate, grow and change with each period of my life.
Do you think there are any distinctive features in your work, that make it stand out?
I wouldn’t really know, I love natural light, I seek a sort of heightened naturalism that may sometimes contain a hint of magic and make the image less conventional or common. I tend to go for very long takes. I like to let my characters breathe and create atmospheres that define and depict them with delicacy and intimacy. But above all, I aim to grasp the director’s idea and vision in a profound and personal way. I try to collaborate with the director on all fronts, often editing the film in my head before even shooting it. I tend to discuss with him/her what result one choice rather than another would give.
What do you expect from the completed scene?
I try to set the context in a realistic mood, but one that at the same time leads to increasing intimacy and introspectiveness. The tones I use – as I said, softly-lit, with blended lights – match and emphasize the correlation between the image and the subjects in the scene.
You See the Woman, two-channel video installation – Artist, Siru Wen, Director of Photography, Vittoria Campaner
How have you managed to rack up such a body of work in so few years?
Probably because abroad, you’re allowed to get a lot of practical training even when you’re a student. I’ve always tried to work with film productions and/or artistic projects even during my studies. And then I think I’ve been particularly lucky in the collaborations I’ve been involved in and the friendships I’ve struck up, many of them international, which has allowed me to travel a great deal, as well shoot films.
What does “abroad” have that Italy doesn’t?
I’d say practicality and simplicity. If you want to collaborate, there are numerous initiatives that give you that chance, they help you create a community, a network, they let you get on with it, without red tape, without prejudices. If you want to learn, you learn. Generally speaking, things are more meritocratic. In Italy, I’m not sure it always works like that.
How important is the final result for the director of photography?
It’s the most wonderful moment, hugely rewarding, so exciting. There’s nothing else like it!
Vittoria, you’re so young and you’ve already achieved so much. Do you have a dream, something that you long for?
Well, yes… As a Venetian, I’d love to be the DP on a film shown at the Venice Film Festival. For my family, for my friends. My hometown.