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When Donato Di Camillo was a kid, his family couldn't afford film for their Polaroid camera.

So instead, he ran around the house with a film-less camera pretending to be a hotshot photographer on an African safari, mimicking the heroes behind iconic photos he saw in the discarded National Geographic magazines his dad grabbed for him out of the garbage.

Years later, when Di Camillo found himself in prison after collecting a lengthy rap sheet of thefts, he discovered a library full of those same magazines.

While other inmates were working out or getting into trouble, he pored over old issues of National Geographic, Life, and Time.


He was in pure awe of the photography their pages held inside.

So when he got out of prison in 2011, Di Camillo knew what he wanted to do.

Finally, he was free to try his hand at his own brand of photography. And with a little guidance from some how-to books he read while locked up and a few YouTube tutorials, he went to work.

Pretty quickly, it was obvious he had plenty of talent.

All images by Donato Di Camillo, used with permission.

He began to capture a different side of life than what many people are used to seeing.

He sometimes calls it "the fringe," though he said it's important to him that people know he means no disrespect by that.

His subjects are often homeless, mentally ill, or just larger-than-life characters he encounters as he explores New York.

Di Camillo said his street smarts sometimes help him approach and connect with people other photographers might not.

"These people walk around, and they're faceless," he said. "I feel that everybody deserves a face."

"I think we all relate to each other in one way or another, whether someone's laying in the street or running a Fortune 500 company," he added.

As for people's response to his work, Di Camillo said he doesn't think too much about it.

"Some people don't get it, and that's OK," he said. He just wants to do right by his subjects.

Di Camillo may not be photographing exotic animals in the wilds of Africa, but he's still showing the world things we often don't (or choose not to) see.

"I want [my subjects] to understand that the reason I'm photographing them is because I see something in them that I see in me, or that I think the rest of the world could relate to," he said.

As someone still picking up the pieces after his time in prison, Di Camillo can certainly be proud of the impact he's having in his new life.

Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

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