Meet RENATO RAMPOLLA, Photographer, Artist, and Author. To get a better understanding of any city, meet its local artists who display the area’s rich history and characters. DESTINATION TAMPA BAY looks forward to introducing readers to these talented and creative representatives as part of a regular artist spotlight feature. Throughout this series, we will highlight a diverse group of artists across a multitude of styles, media, and subject matter. This time, we focus on a talented photographer who grew up in the Bay area and continues to capture the shades, moods and characters that breathe life into Tampa Bay. The spotlight shines on Renato Rampolla.
RENATO RAMPOLLA, Photographer, Artist, and Author
Renato Rampolla (LEFT) grew up amid the sights and sounds of the Bay area. The son of Frank Rampolla, an artist and instructor first at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota and later at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Renato learned the fundamentals of photography and began to study and work across various art media.
Renato Rampolla grew up amid the sights and sounds of the Bay area. The son of Frank Rampolla, an artist and instructor first at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota and later at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Renato learned the fundamentals of photography and began to study and work across various art media. (RIGHT-Renato Rampolla in Ybor City at age 20)
It was common for the college student to spend time in Ybor City snapping photographs. It was also here that Rampolla met his first “portrait” subject he would come to name “Socrates.”
“I glanced over at an old man sitting on a concrete planter facing the street, sporting a baseball cap and a maduro cigar dangling from his lips as he watched the occasional car pass,” Rampolla describes. “He agreed to allow me to make his portrait and after I took two shots, he asked, ‘Why? Why do you want my picture?’ Rampolla goes on to explain to the old man “your face is interesting to me.” Rampolla did not know it at the time, but Socrates would become the first of hundreds of portraits to come.
Throughout his college years attending USF Tampa, the young Rampolla surrounded himself in opportunities to explore and experience all facets of art – from his wax sculpture work and custom-made darkroom at home to his guitar lessons he provided at a local music store. The young man graduated from USF with a Bachelor of Art’s degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences. (Socrates by Renato Rampolla in 1980-LEFT)
“I bought an entry-level digital camera to take photos of my new family. This energized my creative side and I wanted more,” he says. “In 2017, I bought a better camera and revived the passion I once had for photography.”
Renato Rampolla on Socrates
And that rekindled spark has remained ever since. Rampolla’s work is on permanent display at galleries across the country as well as right here in Florida including The Maitland Museum of Art and History and The Museum of Art-DeLand. One of his most acclaimed series of street portraits “Dignity No Matter What: The Light Within (2018) was a featured exhibition at the DeLand museum in January 2021.
Rampolla explains the series’ origin: “As I travel across the United States, I meet many people. Many live on the street and in alleys of major cities. With their permission, I make their portrait and write their stories,” he notes. Rampolla’s portraits stop and engage the viewer or as he puts it “call attention those people and things that often go unnoticed.” One featured portrait in the series is “Marlboro Mike.” (RIGHT)
Marlboro Mike, by Renato Rampolla (2020)-RIGHT
The Dignity Series by Renato Rampolla:
The DIGNITY series was instrumental in the development of an accompanying book which Rampolla self-published and donated all of the net proceeds across four reprints to Blanket Tampa Bay, LLC, a local nonprofit that gives out blankets, backpacks, clothing and toiletries to Bay area homeless. While the original book is no longer in print, a hardcover collector’s edition has been updated and is available by clicking here.
Rampolla presents a unique perspective of humanity through the lens: a portrait of a young mother and her baby in this work, “Mother and Child” (2020), part of a group show “Love and Compassion: Images of Mother and Child.” The Maitland Museum of Art and History in Florida has since acquired the work and made it part of its permanent exhibits.
Rampolla is quick to point out that while his father was a huge influence on him artistically, his mother also played a pivotal role. “I’ve been highly influenced by my father’s artwork. His paintings are larger than life, figurative, expressionist style, tackling subjects such as social injustice, war, and humanity,” he says. “However, my mother was equally influential in my artwork, as she was love in action to those in need.”
The photographer continues to blog regularly and invites those who wish to receive his monthly emails to subscribe at his website. There the artist has used the medium to stay connected to fans of his work even throughout the pandemic and immersed himself in creating. His photo “2020” is his emotional interpretation of a year of government lockdown, the COVID-19 pandemic and social tribalism. It became part of his series INTROSPECTION.
Rampolla acknowledges his portrait work can be difficult for viewers to study because his work is candid – raw, emotionally captivating, and at times, unforgiving. But for this photographer, as with the DIGNITY street portrait series, the portraits are reflections of who they are as people and not how they ended up in their current surroundings. “I am focused on their humanity and not their circumstance,” Rampolla points out. “This is not just about the dignity of the homeless; it’s about you and me, and our fundamental human needs of belonging, respect, love and kindness.”
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