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Arianna Lago: Photographing the Ethereal and the Unplanned

Directions Magazine

Words Steph WadeImages Arianna LagoDate 14 September 2023

For the Italian photographer Arianna Lago, photographing nature’s surprises in her uniquely cinematic way leads to moments of unwavering joy.

Her nostalgic and painterly compositions are self described as “spontaneous documentary” style, a fitting characterization considering the photographer is self-taught. Lago grew up one hour away from Venice, in a small verdant village full of mountains, rivers, and lakes. An adventurous child, she was often found bouncing between public swimming pools, creeks, and fields, or scheming to swap out boring classrooms for the outdoors. “I do think that being outside and exploring nature so much fed into me being a creative child,” she shares. “I always loved to paint—but I was never interested in photography, that actually came much later in life than most photographers.”

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View from a window Venice summer light

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In Venice Lido Impressions of a summer

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Earth Day shoot For AnOther magazine

Like many artists, Lago initially didn’t think a creative career would be viable; especially given that her father did not approve of her choice to work in the arts. “I always had the desire, but because of my dad’s mentality, I never felt secure enough to do it,” she says. Yet fast forward some years of experimentation and hard work, her exquisite observational tendencies have helped the photographer to carve out a successful path for herself. With editorial and client work and exhibitions for brands and publications including Vogue Italia, Vogue Poland, Dior Magazine, Atmos, Rimowa, and Stella McCartney, the decision to pursue her passion has proven to be the right one.

On the back of traversing the Indonesian island of Lombok for our Directions Magazine destination story, we chatted to Lago from her sunny home in Los Angeles—about how her Italian heritage feeds into her work, working with bugs and animals in nature, and what travel means to her.

“My work is very spontaneous and impulsive, and what I create makes me feel like it’s a daydream.”

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Between human and nature Cenote swimming

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Amid the California Superbloom For Atmos magazine

In what ways does your Italian identity shape your creativity?

My work is very driven by color compositions and the emotional response I get from the colors. When I think of Italy, I think of the vibrancy of colors—in the food, the landscapes, the buildings, the beaches—and I guess that feeling is reflected in my pictures. My work is very spontaneous and impulsive, and what I create makes me feel a little bit like it’s a daydream of the past.


Your work does have a nostalgic feel. Living in Los Angeles, do you ever feel a homesickness for Italy that photographing helps you with?

Certainly, although I’m not sure if I have ever admitted that before—but it’s true. There is always a certain nostalgia of the place where you grew up, these places that are far away or that are not a part of your life anymore. It’s memories and escapism. I guess looking from afar makes you appreciate things about a place that you didn't appreciate before.

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Nostalgia Capturing a feeling in a flash

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Summer In colors

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June In Italy

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Snapshot Scenes from a Ligurian summer

You use nature and animals very uniquely as props in your compositions; flowers, butterflies, and leaves balancing on limbs, or poetic moments with horses or bugs. How does this process evolve visually?

It’s all very unplanned. But in general, I like to create a feeling of immersion, of closeness and intimacy with nature. As a kid, I loved science and to study insects, and I would lie around in the field and put leaves on my eyes—so it probably stemmed from these little moments [laughing]. There is this film from the ‘80s called Phenomena, where the girl has a special gift where she could communicate with bugs, and I really felt like I was her. All of this to say that when I do a photoshoot I don’t have a planned idea for how it will go, I just roll with what the animals are feeling. It's a matter of finding ourselves in a random context and going for it.

Any funny encounters with animals when you’ve been on location?

Actually, yes, once we were shooting at a horse rescue sanctuary. One horse was obsessed with me and she wouldn’t leave me or the camera alone. She just kept coming towards me and interrupting the frame, trying to eat my hair and nibble on my arm. It was so hilarious and weird.

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Close-up Grains of life

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Still life At home

You were recently on the Indonesian island of Lombok to photograph one of our editorial stories: “An Island’s Magnetism” which is in the latest issue of Directions Magazine. How was your experience there, what did you think of the destination?

The people were super nice and welcoming. Obviously we were working all day so it was rather busy but I could still see that the culture is so deep and layered. And there is a nice balance between the Hindu and Muslim religions; everything seems very peaceful. But most memorably the nature was incredible: the palm trees, the cascading rice fields, the waterfalls. Everything smelled so fresh.

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A mood Reclaiming some blue

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Lobster aquaculture is a big part of the coastal communities there. You visited a sustainable lobster farm—what was that like?

So interesting. There are these floating huts where all the farmers gather, and it seemed like a really nice community of people greeting each other and working in harmony with the ocean. The huts are bound together with bamboo rods or plastic and each has nets that drop into the ocean. The farmers showed us the lobsters right there and the hotel we visited, Innit Lombok, source their seafood directly there, so much of the produce makes its way back to the hotel.

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Waterfalls are Lombok's pride and joy

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Farmers' huts On the lobster farm

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Mutiara, pearl lobsters, named for their blue, opalescent shell

So, back to your current location. You studied Sound Design in London, and lived there many years. What led you to move to Los Angeles—and what are their differences?

At some point I needed to make a few changes in my life and I wanted to get away from London. I had some opportunities for projects here and so I thought, that’s it, I’m getting my visa, I’m going to try this new chapter. After so many years in gray weather, well, it’s just sunny all the time in Los Angeles! Although, my bodily makeup is still set to the European cyclical rhythm of four seasons, and my brain still thinks that is how time is split. But you don’t really have that here, so it can sometimes be disorienting.

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Desertscape Palm Springs

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Playing around A personal project

Lastly, what does travel mean to you?

Travel makes me feel alive, and makes me feel like I'm learning and putting things into perspective. Perspective makes you reconsider your life, where you are on the planet, and what you are doing for the planet. So to me traveling is about exploring and being inspired by other cultures and places. I hope I don’t ever lose that curiosity.

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Paolo Soleri The Italian architect built his dream project north of Phoenix

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Arcosanti An experimental fusion of architecture and ecology

“Perspective makes you reconsider your life, where you are on the planet, and what you are doing for the planet.”

Arianna Lago

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Directions is our magazine published every second year, spotlighting new perspectives in travel, culture, design, ecology, and architecture. In our boldest and most playful edition yet, we explore the spectrum of pleasure within travel, and look at what is influencing some of the spirited and energetic communities around the world.

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