Our Kinds Community: Mauro Palmieri

Mauro Palmieri is an Italian-born, Melbourne-raised photographer now based in Perth. His work with designer Toni Maticevski recently won the My Nikon Life fashion category award.

Felicity Smith

February 23, 2022

Palmieri has been connected with Our Kinds since the start—he's responsible for the striking black and white staff portraits and is always around to be inspired by. His portfolio dances across genres and brands but if you look closely, you can spot the connective tissue that ties it to him—each shot shows off his fascination with light and the complexity of human form. I was lucky enough to ask him a few questions about his views on life and hopes for the future.

Was photography always the plan? How did you get into it?

As cliché as it sounds, it began when I was little. My father published a magazine called The Melburnian back in the 80's—it was a glossy lifestyle magazine, but it was dedicated to Melbourne. They had a studio in Fitzroy where every school holiday my brother and I would spend our time either there or at Mum's art studio in Brunswick. I was exposed to photography really early on. By the time I was like 10 or 11, I think I kind of knew I wanted to be working or at least immersed in that space. Later in school, maybe around year 10 or 11, I got to explore darkrooms and that's when my connection to photography became more solidified.

What do you think connected you with it?

I went through phases, but I always wanted to create things. I often felt like I was exploring something that was missing inside of me or wanting to connect with other humans through photography, where the camera became a kind of tool which helped me translate reality. It was more finding a medium of exploration rather than just about the photography itself.

You get to create through photography, and you weirdly get a voice, but ultimately, I love it because of the people—when I look at a person and decide how I want to take a photograph of them, it's about telling the world that here is an individual. So, a lot of the projects I do are based on faces and people.

What was it like starting out?

I worked in hospitality in my 20s while I was assisting photographers. Back in those days, you couldn't get into photography as easily. The equipment was expensive, you had to pay for film, you had to process it, there were no social media platforms to show your work or connect with the world through. By design everything was experimental. It took a long time, I worked in hospitality for ages doing odd photography jobs on the side, but I think that hospitality work was a way for me to learn about the human condition. It's an industry that isn't designed to study humans, but you can't help it, you see so many different types of people and you must work with them. Regardless of a person’s energy you try to convert it into happiness with hospitality work, with photography it's similar but I tend to let people just be themselves more than try and push them into something that I want.

What is fashion photography like?

I fell into fashion photography for a long time, I think all through my 30’s I was shooting fashion maybe from 30-33 onwards. I was exposed to some really big designers, and I had fun doing it but it wasn’t my thing because I don’t always love the fashion culture, but I love the photography that was associated with the fashion industry. Not necessarily for retail and commerce but with fine art and editorial shoots as it’s high production and it’s always a beautiful space to be able to kind of play creatively.

Sometimes it made no sense to me, a lot of it is very staged or too staged for my liking and I think that’s probably why I pulled out of fashion and wanted to focus more on that connection and that human aspect of photography that you get in portraiture.

There was one designer I worked with, Toni Maticevski, where I never experienced that though because humanness was always there. I did a lot of photography for his book (The Elegant Rebel, written by Kristie Clements and Mitchell Oakley Smith). We’d shot together for like seven years doing all the collections. The winning Nikon shot came from work with Maticevski.

Palmieri showed me the book over zoom, it is an incredibly classic but modern Thames & Hudson coffee table book. The imagery will take your breath away. Check it out on Maticevski’s website here if you’re interested.

When did you shift your focus to portraiture?

Probably about two years ago, just before COVID. I’ll always be influenced by my years in fashion photography, it was like my honors period, and now I feel like I’m sort of in my doctorate in terms of lengths of time focusing on a discipline—I don’t see an end to it though, there would always be something else to add into it. Like right now I feel like I’m almost doing a thesis on the human condition through portraiture, where my fashion ‘honors’ was almost like the study of human form, then before that, it was more hands-on practical skills. I see it as sort of like a university course that took 20 years to get to where it is now. There was no real guidance, it was all self-traveled. I think portrait work satisfies my soul. After every portrait session I do, especially when it’s not commercial and it’s personal—I feel invigorated and excited as though I’m like a 5 year old in a toy store.

What do you think about the recent resurgence of film photography?

It says a lot about human beings when you’ve got younger generations who have grown up in this digital space wanting to shoot film. I think it represents a hunger for connecting to a tangible experience. I’m not saying digital cameras aren’t tangible, they are, but it’s not the same level to me. You’ve got to know your film, study your light, pre conceptualise, pre visualise, you have limited film— it’s so dependent on each section of the craft. In my mind, that’s what makes it more tangible and more connected to the human experience. Digital photography, the craft is less important, the final product is way more important, the craft is more automated.

Where do you see photography taking you in the future?

I want to tell more stories. I think documentary filmmaking is going to be an inevitable future path for me. With still photography, you rely somewhat on an audience's ability to read a photograph in order to get the narrative across. Whereas with filmmaking, I feel you get to sort of communicate to the masses a lot easier. It’s more tangible. There’s a Canadian photographer living in the US called Joey L that has done a lot of documentary work covering his photographic journeys and processes. He’s a really young dude, only 32 or something who started his career at 18, very talented. He does a lot of photography in places like Ethiopia and Syria and has some beautiful projects. I like the idea of telling a human story through a documentary that follows a photographic journey.  So that’s where my head is now.

Are there any important lessons that you’ve learned throughout your career?

The biggest thing for me is learning, learning about life, and developing skills and connections through the art of observation. When I say observation, I mean looking at the whole world as a myriad of perspectives and potentials rather than just from a single point of view. I’m just super grateful for everything that I’ve found in my life at the moment, I really couldn’t be happier. I feel like when you’re on the right path you just know because there’s less resistance, things are just flowing beautifully. I am very blessed and thankful for my beautiful family, my life, and my work.

To see the team portraits Mauro has shot of us, visit our About Us page here.

For more insight into Mauro's creative genius, visit his website here.

We’re building community so we can stamp out single use culture. Would you like to be a part of the movement?