Anacapa photography teacher Alison Strelich and Anacapa student Rocelia Rodriguez talk with photojournalist Santi Visalli at his current exhibit at Cal State Channel islands. (Hilary Doubleday / Anacapa School photo)

In keeping with a long-established history of creating opportunities for Anacapa School students to meet and learn from industry experts from a wide variety of backgrounds, Anacapa students spent several hours this week with Santi Visalli, a world-renowned photojournalist whose iconic photographs of influential people and places ran in newspapers,  graced the covers of hundreds of magazines, filled the pages of architectural coffee table books and told the story of the United States during a particularly fascinating period of US history.

Anacapa students met Visalli early Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, for a bus ride from Santa Barbara to Ventura to see Visalli’s current exhibit at CSU Channel Islands.

Visalli spoke to the Anacapa students on campus before leaving for Ventura and gave them a personal tour of his show filled with stories and anecdotal observations, an incredible opportunity for Anacapa students.

The CSUCI exhibit currently showing is the result of a formal gift Visalli made to the university that includes 106,964 negatives taken in the 1960s and ’70s as well as prints and personal memorabilia such as press passes, tickets and photo equipment.

When Anacapa Head of School Gordon Sichi asked Visalli why he made the gift to the CSUCI, Mr. Visalli responded, “I wanted the work to stay together to make an impact somewhere and I thought I could do that with CSUCI. I liked the opportunity to work closely and in a personal way with the university curators.”

He told The Ventura Star, “It seemed to me that this was a chance to grow with the university.”

Maya Papadopoulos, an Anacapa freshman and an avid photography student, said, “Santi Visalli talked about finding the precise moment in photography, what to watch for, and how to anticipate it. When he was shooting Martin Luther King, for example, he focused on his mouth because Dr. King was such an incredible speaker and orator.”

Athena Masthoff, also an Anacapa freshman and photography student, had the opportunity to sit next to Visalli on the bus.

“He was incredibly energetic and talkative, so willing to share his life and experiences. I asked him what it took to make it in the photography business and technical questions about light and depth of field,” Masthoff said. “I was so impressed by the access Mr. Visalli had to people who were and became so influential. I couldn’t help myself asking what so many of the celebrities and people he photographed were like in person. I was so interested.”

“It’s such a hard industry to become successful in and he did it,” Masthoff added, “Now he’s here and we have a connection to him. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Sichi chimed in, “Visalli’s story about being assigned by The New York Times to photograph Juan Perón in Argentina because he spoke Spanish was incredible. Remember, this was before we had all the technology of today. Visalli somehow managed to take the shot, develop it using a black bag, and wire it to New York all within the span of an hour.”

Papadopoulos ​thought his story of photographing Pope John Paul II was just as incredible.

“He explained this experience of dropping his camera at the Vatican when the Pope reached out to him to hold both his hands.”

One student, James Padden Rubin, an Anacapa seventh grader, asked Visalli if he ever regretted leaving Sicilly, his birthplace and where he lived until he came to the U.S. in 1959, speaking no English and not knowing how to use a camera.

“I miss the smell sometimes,” the 84 year old Visalli said, referring to the scent of citrus blossoms, which the Muslims in Sicilly called zagara.

Anacapa photography teacher Alison Strelich asked Visalli who his photographic influences were.

“Lewis Hine and Henri Cartier-Bresson,” Visalli replied, who was also quick to point out the effect that his early exposure to America had.

“As a child in Italy, I loved Charlie Chaplin and The Lone Ranger. They made me love America before I ever got to America.”

Even after many years here, Visalli is quick to share his feelings that “America is the greatest place.”

For Visalli, who speaks four languages, the thing he loves most about his art form is its universality. 

“Photography is the real international language. It connects and educates people in a way that nothing else can. Images talk to the world. They don’t need to be translated.”

After spending a day with Visalli and seeing his exhibit, Anacapa students and teachers on the trip were quick to agree.

— Hilary Doubleday for Anacapa School.