Monday, July 23 , 2018, 9:31 am | Fair 74º


Master photographer Santi Visalli to Speak, Exhibit at CSU Channel Islands

Donald Sutherland and Federico Fellini on the set of Fellini’s Casanova.
Donald Sutherland and Federico Fellini on the set of Fellini’s Casanova. (Santi Visalli / CI photo)

Santi Visalli and his camera were there when The Beatles played on The Ed Sullivan Show. He was there when Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke outside of the United Nations. He was there when President Richard Nixon sat down with the Soviet Union’s General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev to sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

A photographer who captured images of five sitting U.S. Presidents, movie stars, political icons and the soul of the 1960s and ‘70s, to name just some of his work, will speak at CSU Channel Islands about his life and the 106,964 images he has donated to the university.

A Life in Pictures, the exhibit that will include about 50 pieces from the collection, will be on display in the John Spoor Broome Library and the second floor art gallery from Nov. 16, 2015, through Feb. 12, 2016 with a reception and artist’s talk from 5–​6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19.

“He’s a walking witness to the last part of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century,” said Professor of Art History Irina D. Costache, Ph.D., who is curating the show. “Through his lens, he continues to be part of these moments and through his work, we, the viewers, are also present.”

Visalli, now 83, chose CI to receive his collection because, he said, he wants to be part of an institution that is growing and he wants his legacy to inspire generations to come.

“I want to evoke the same emotions I felt when I took the pictures,” he said. “It can be joy, it can be sorrow. Number two, I want a historical record. I want people to look at the pictures 100 years from now and know what life was like. And I want people to get educated about good photography,” he said.

The photographer who would capture so much of American culture in the ‘60s and ‘70s was born in Sicily, and as he grew, developed a hunger to visit America. After World War II ended, the hunger grew fierce.

“Since I was a little boy I had a fascination with America, even though they were dropping bombs on my head,” he said.

Robert De Niro. Click to view larger
Robert De Niro. (Santi Visalli / CI photo)

Visalli wanted to be a journalist, so he and two other aspiring young journalists hatched a plan to go around the world by jeep, a trip financed piecemeal by the Italian government with the understanding that they would extol the virtues of Italy.

The journey around the world took almost three years, with Visalli taking photos and developing a love for the process.

“Images talk to everybody and they don’t have to be translated,” he said. 

Visalli fell in love with New York after he and his band of wandering journalists arrived under the shadow of Lady Liberty.

He enrolled in school and began doing freelance photography. Ultimately, his clients would include the New York Times, Life magazine, Newsweek and a broad range of high-profile American and European publications.

Throughout his career, he was hired to photograph Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

“Johnson was bigger than life, believe me,” Visalli said. “An extremely tall man, a little on the crude side. More refined were the Kennedys. The one I really photographed a lot was Nixon. We covered him the first day he sat at his desk (in the Oval Office). I was right in front of him.”

Visalli also photographed Martin Luther King, Jr. near the United Nations building in the early 1960s.

“They wouldn’t let him speak at the UN, so he sat in front of the UN to make a speech,” Visalli said. “I took a long lens. When his eyes met my long lens, I immediately realized, this man is going to be somebody.”

A young Robert De Niro also crossed into Visalli’s field of vision. Visalli met De Niro through his network of fellow Italian expatriates when the actor had just landed the role of Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II.

“He knew I spoke Sicilian, so he came to me to be coached in the Sicilian dialect,” Visalli said.

The Beatles. Click to view larger
The Beatles. (Santi Visalli / CI photo)

Visalli was also close to artist Andy Warhol and numerous directors who allowed him to shoot young stars who would become icons of the silver screen.

“There aren’t too many people who were able to be close to Andy Warhol,” Costache said.

CI Head of Collections and Technical Services for Broome Library Stephen Stratton said these images and negatives provide a rich learning opportunity for students of all disciplines.

“The Santi Visalli collection will provide ample opportunities for students to visualize historical personalities, places and events,” he said. “They will be able to use the photographs to study not only the work of a great photographer but to add to their study of the historic events and periods that are part of his work.”

Kim Gregory is a communications specialist for CSU Channel Islands.


Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >