When Sandra Cattaneo Adorno accepted an invitation to attend a five-day photography course with her daughter — a gift for her 60th birthday — she never thought about just how big of a present it would be. Back then, she had barely taken pictures, let alone held a proper camera.
Fast forward five years, and Cattaneo Adorno is working on her second book on street photography after exhibiting her pictures in New York, Miami and Berlin and amassing a hefty 33,000 followers on Instagram.
“I feel like the luckiest person in the world,” she tells me. “[This is] something I never knew was there, and I got it as a gift. I’m just like a child again!”
A World Tour Through Images
When we talk, Cattaneo Adorno is in Barbados. I have been following the trip through her snaps on social media — silhouettes of men, women and children fishing in a mesmerizing play of light at the shores of the Caribbean nation. A few clicks back through her Instagram channel and the landscape changes. I am now seeing contours of bodies doing acrobatics in the California coast. Click back even further, and we are on the dazzling beaches of Rio de Janeiro where dark figures are contrasted against the glistening waves. It’s a world tour of a very mobile woman captured through still images.
Even before she took up photography, Cattaneo Adorno was already traveling far and wide.
“I am very different from most people; I don’t like staying in one place for a long time. I feel comfortable moving every two weeks. I love the change,” she tells me.
It’s fortunate that her life circumstances are compatible with that love: being a Brazilian married to an Italian whose businesses are scattered throughout the world — as are their children — globe-trotting has become somewhat second nature to her.
An Antidote to Perfectionism
But before turning 60, her trips had been mostly work trips. Sitting on the board of several family businesses as well as an art foundation meant she was managing employees and attending meetings from Houston to London.
“I was always focused on administration,” she says. “That’s what I did my whole life. I was never the artsy person in the family. I like to take care of the things that I have. I have a pride in organizing everything and in things working well around me — everything in its place.”
In fact, Cattaneo Adorno is the kind of person who has mastered the art of planning to such a degree that it includes laminated itineraries of most activities, be it a board meeting or a family weekend getaway. But while that level of perfectionism certainly comes in handy, it can often be all consuming.
“I was always planning a lot, doing a lot of things that now I don’t think I needed to waste so much time on,” she says. “I stopped being so perfectionist in the small things and I looked at the bigger picture.”
Love at First Click
It turns out that taking pictures is what gave her this ability to look at the bigger picture. Which brings us back to the summer of 2013, and Alex Webb’s photography course in Barcelona. “Gwen was doing a minor in photography at university, and she said, ‘Mum, why don’t you come with me to this course?’ ” she recalls. “I looked at her and thought: ‘Oh God.’ But I went for the fun of it.”
It was love at first click. “I had no idea how to use this camera, and I was obviously the worst of the class,” she says. “But for some reason, I don’t know why, I really found it fascinating. It was very funny. I had never thought of doing photography but something clicked and I loved it.”