Notable Storytellers – Sara Lando

Notable Storytellers – Sara Lando
Sara Lando Self Portrait

Sara Lando Self Portrait

Welcome to Notable Storytellers, a feature where we point you to some of the best visual storytellers around, from photographers and videographers to VFX and graphic artists.

Sara Lando is an Italian photographer who first came to my attention through her work on David Hobby’s Strobist blog. An occasional contributor there, Sara is a commercial photographer based in Milan, Italy.

I devour with regularity, and remember seeing Sara introduced as the European correspondent last year. I also remember reading an article by her on photographer Christoph Martin Schmidt.

Her recent series of articles, however, weren’t about another photographer, or even a technique – not necessarily, anyway. These were more of an “approach philosophy” piece. I quote David Hobby:

Picture a tiny Italian woman gesturing continuously as she uncorks a full brain dump (from a very, very creative mind) on all of the little things that many people never think of when photographing others. As I was listening I kept thinking, “Someone should be writing this stuff down RIGHT NOW.

I read the article. Then read it again. It was, I realized, pretty damn good. And insightful.

So I clicked through to her portfolio, and got a really wide grin on my face.

I love finding photographers whose work inspires me. It used to make me groan at the distance I have to cover to get that good, but now it just drives me. Sara’s work is definitely, without a doubt, inspiring.

What fascinated me about Sara’s portfolio is the range she covers. Not in terms of subject matter — she sticks mostly to people — but in terms of style and substance. There are images like the one above (Meloni), which are clean, stark, yet soft portraits. And then there are images like the one below (Crucifixion, from her Traces collection).

I really like this one. How she got this gent to allow himself to be duct-taped to a wall, I don’t know. But the result is an unmistakably unique image, with solid impact. Everything about it is spot-on; the expression on the man’s face, the dilapidated setting, the roll of tape sitting on top of an unidentifiable object.

My favorite from this series, though, is “Birds”, below:

This is a meld, I think, of Sara’s classical portraiture style, mixed with an element of “otherness” that elevates it, makes it something more than just imaginative.

Sara’s own words describe this series the best.

These images are like flashbacks from places I’ve never been, fragments of dreams and memories. There is no real meaning hidden behind them, just the attempt to tell a one-frame-long story.

There is no intention of portraying the people pictured in the frame: they become the characters inhabiting an imaginary world that will dissolve as soon as morning comes.

From that, we move to something like this…

Entitled “Mist”, and taken from her “Layers” collection, this is from a series of mixed-media self-portraits based on themes gleaned from a word randomizer. Each week for a year, Sara picked the theme and came up with something that combined digital and analog techniques.

To me, the end result is something that is carefully put together but manages to imply a sense of air and whimsy and, at times, an almost saucy insouciance. Looking through “Layers”, I never once thought, “You know, that really doesn’t reflect the word she was trying to base that piece on.” She nails it, every single time. Sometimes, like above, the word is employed as a visual suggestion. Sometimes, as shown in “Rings”, below, she takes things a bit literally, visually speaking.

Going back to her “Grey” series is a bit like visual whiplash. This one is “Elena”.

This is the clean, timeless side of her work. Fifty years from now, it’ll still be relevant. This could have been taken fifty years ago and it would still be relevant today. It’s a style that’s marked by its simplicity and grace. And sometimes, as you can see in “Rosella”, below, a bit of whimsy borrowed from her other works.

That, folks, is why Sara Lando is someone you should know about, someone you should follow closely. Not only does she have her technique down cold, she’s actually showing a pretty cool depth in her range. That’s something worth striving for.

That’s it for this edition of Notable Storytellers. As always, questions and feedback are welcome in the comments below.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter or find him at

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