Renato Rotolo – Photographer

The United States of Egypt: Photographing the World

Renato Rotolo is a photographer living near Asheville, but he is originally from Italy. When he was eleven, he started photographing reptiles. His passion for reptiles, nature, and photography led him to creating his own book about southern Italian reptiles. He joined the Italian Army, and after his service, he continued to pursue a career in photography.

His photography has opened way to a number of interesting experiences. Rotolo shifted his focus from reptiles to people and began to live with and photograph families of shepherds and farmers in remote sections of mountains in southern Italy. He then spent two years living with a clan of gypsies in what was then Yugoslavia. “My photography must have gotten good,” Rotolo explains, “because magazines and newspapers published many of my pictures and [wrote] articles about me.” He was the focus of a documentary called On the Road during this time. His dream, though, was to work for National Geographic, so he decided to move to Washington DC – the headquarters for National Geographic. Things didn’t work out quite the way he expected, but he began doing freelance work for Reuters and Agence France Presse (AFP). He then moved to New York City to work for Gamma while still working for various European news and travel magazines. “I got to know this continent better than most people and in a way that changes you forever,” Rotolo explains. During this time, he says he had the opportunity to photograph “presidents, prisons, actors, gangs, Amish, Native Americans, Nevada’s bordellos, strip joints, churches, African American leaders, the KKK, survivalists and apocalyptic groups, scientists, hippies, zippies, and more.

Something Rotolo noticed during his time in Washington DC was the “strange and out of place Egyptian things.” At first he noticed the Washington Monument and realized that it is the tallest obelisk ever built. He qualifies that by adding, “Although, of course, [it is] not a real one because real ones are monoliths – one big, long piece of granite.” He then noticed the pyramid on the one dollar bill. A new passion was sparked. He began photographing pyramids, obelisks, and sphinxes from all over the country. Rotolo also noticed that there are two different story lines with this American Egyptian fascination: “The core of this photographic research [is] the incredible amount of ‘Egyptian stuff’ found in the USA and the ‘Duel Path’ to Egypt taken by white America and Black America.” He admits that this may be “an uncomfortable subject” as it delves into race issues, but he also admits, “It’s very photogenic.” And, in fact, this subject has taken him all over the country yet again to take pictures of all things Egyptian. His goal is to make an informative, socially conscious book with his original photography documenting what he has found in his journeys. “I literally have thousands of pictures from all over the US on this subject,” Rotolo explains. He knows he probably has enough information to make his book, but there are still a few locations he would like to visit first.

AC renato rotolo

In addition, he is also working on a project called “The Word of GOD!” which is a “sarcastic, funny, sad, [and] scary look at religion and the way it uses advertising to keep being relevant.” He says, “As an atheist, it is an important subject to me.” He is also going back to his roots and photographing reptiles and insects.

“If I could,” Rotolo explains, “I would never stop telling stories of ‘real’ people, help their voices go further, and, if possible, help as many humans and animals as possible.”

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