Joe Fornabaio now lives in Manhattan’s East Village, but he keeps his camera close to home—which is wherever his extended family can be found. Christmas, Halloween, first communion, birthday parties—if there’s family, cake and a “bajillion course Italian meal” to be had in the Fornabaio family, you can bet your seven fishes that Joe and his camera will be there, too, both as participant and documentarian. “On any occasion I’m there in celebration with them, but they’ve become comfortable with my camera by my side so I get to shoot without drawing a glance,” he says. He takes photographs both for love and for a living using his Mamiya RZ 67. The 37-year-old photographer shares a few of his very personal pics with SMITH, and his thoughts on what makes him click.
What makes a good image to you?
I like different images for different reasons. Sometimes I like an image for its visual strength, sometimes for its content. The cream of the crop is when you’ve got both in one photo.
Who first inspired you to take pictures?
My high school art teacher, he didn’t inspire me so much as bring photography to my attention. I’m forever grateful to him for seeing the boredom I had in his class.
What’s the most important quality of a photo for you?
I need to like it whether it’s content or just visual strength. If I don’t like it I’m not going to look at it again.
What do you consider off-limits?
For me, I can’t shoot the depressing side of life when people are at their most difficult time, so I admire photojournalists who do by covering wars and human interest pieces that focus on the sadder parts of life that we need to be aware of.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen through the viewfinder?
Let me put it this way: nothing that’s kept me from shooting, but I am eagerly awaiting that moment when someone will have to call an ambulance because I won’t be able to breathe from laughing so hard.
What’s the fish that got away—the photo you saw but didn’t have a camera for?
I see ’em everyday but I don’t sweat it. I can’t capture every moment of my waking life so I’ve learned to appreciate every moment regardless whether I’ve captured it or not. I’ve learned to not beat myself over the one that ‘got away’ because there are way too many moments in life that I find interesting. So I always carry at least one of my point-and-shoot Yashica T4’s with me so I at least have something on film.
From whom, what, or where do you derive inspiration?
Everything. People, places, things. Cliché? I don’t care, it’s the truth, and there’s too many to list.
What’s the picture you’d most like to take?
Actually, this is sort of the ‘one that got away,’ a self-portrait with my point-and-shoot camera at arms length atop the Twin Towers overlooking New York City in the background.
If anyone could take a picture of you, who would it be?
Lorenzo Giustini, my four-year-old nephew. What a great name, Lorenzo Giustini, sounds like some great pioneer/turn of the century photographer. He’d probably shoot it with his parents’ point-and-shoot digital camera. Why? Because he has no preconceived notions of what a photo should be, so he would shoot endlessly the boundless curiosity he has with a camera that instantly gratifies him. No rules, no ego, pure enthusiasm.
Where are you happiest taking photographs?
Wherever I’m standing. As long as there’s a breath in my body and I’m fortunate enough to have the strength in my arms to lift a camera and the eyes to look through a lens then I’m happy. I consider myself very fortunate to love what I do for a living, which also enables me to keep doing my personal work. So it’s a double whammy: I love to shoot and get paid for it!
More of Joe Fornabaio’s work can be found on his site