Roberta Rucco spent this past summer on the Isle of Capri, visiting family and photographing women, specifically mothers and daughters. As we sit having coffee, she scrolls through the photos on her iPad. It’s tempting to study each woman’s expression and posture. Why is this mother smiling? Why is this daughter not smiling? We can easily imagine ourselves posing, whether with our mothers or daughters. What messages would our images send?
You may get the opportunity to find out. Roberta plans to turn her lens onto women in New York, finding mothers and daughters willing to pose. Then it may be off to Washington and Palm Beach, where she grew up, to continue her project.
Roberta Rucco, in other words, is on a mission. Early in her photography career, she discovered that she loved photographing the female form. And her work speaks for itself. Her photographs lend credence to that old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Her Capri series is mesmerizing.
More surprising is that Roberta’s photography career had a late start. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, she had planned for a career in the fashion industry. Then came marriage and children. Traveling to fashion shows several times a year wouldn’t fit in with her family plan. (Her husband, a restauranteur, had a hectic work schedule). Yet Roberta knew she wanted to work, ideally in an artistic environment. She enrolled in a photography program at the School of Visual Arts. “I needed to produce work every week,” she said. “My children became my subjects.”
After one session, Roberta studied the photos and saw that her 13 year-old daughter was growing up right before her eyes. She decided to photograph herself and her daughter. “She looks a lot like me so that people, seeing the photos, didn’t know which was me and which was her. It was very, very cool.”
Capturing on film images of herself, her daughter, and some of her daughter’s friends, sparked Roberta’s interest in focusing her work on women. “Some like photographing landscapes; I like photographing women, the female form,” she explained. Maybe I’m attracted to it because I’m female, too.”
Although Roberta’s website describes her as a photographer who specializes in both commercial work and fine art, for many years she was doing more on the commercial side, the work that “pays the bills” and allows her “to buy wonderful toys.”
Her creative side, however, was calling out. Knowing that she would be traveling to Capri for the summer, she made the decision to photograph women while she was there. She packed up her equipment, including a backdrop, and set up a studio in her mother’s family home. For two weeks, Roberta photographed more than a dozen mother-daughter combinations, 1,500 shots. There were some surprises along the way.
The only guidance she gave the women was not to wear prints. Except for a few women, including one mother-daughter pair wearing costumes for the Tarantella, the traditional dance of the region of Capri, the majority of women, young and old, wore white.
Roberta spent about two hours with each group. “Usually when I do a shoot, it’s longer than that, but they all knew me and were comfortable. If I had had more time, I would have photographed the whole island.” she said with a laugh.
The ultimate goal is to pull together these mother-daughter photos for a gallery show and also a book. “I want to ask each mother to write a short paragraph to describe their relationship with their daughter in the period of time the photograph was taken,” Roberta said, explaining that mother-daughter relationships change. “That’s the reason I find this interesting. Someone asked me when I did the project with my daughter what our relationship was like,” she said. “It’s like an ocean; it’s calm sometimes and sometimes its really rough. And it goes back and forth. That’s how I describe our relationship and I want to know how each mother feels.”
Roberta is still very close to her own mother who divides her time between Capri, New York, and Florida. “My family owned a restaurant in Palm Beach Le Petite Marmite,” she said. “I grew up cooking and baking, and eating lots of food.” Roberta’s parents also had a clothing store on Worth Avenue next to the restaurant. “They would go to Milan every year, see the fashion shows, go to Como, buy the silk, design the clothes and have them made, really exquisite things. So I grew up in an environment with creativity, a lot of creativity.”
Although her husband’s family is also from Capri, they met in New York at a dinner party arranged by mutual friends. And like her family, her husband’s family was in the restaurant business. Twenty years ago, they opened Scalinatella, and in 1996, Il Postino. A third restaurant, Scali Caffe, opened recently.
Roberta acknowledged that launching a photography career was tough. Her break came one evening when she was at Scalinatella. “I had just had a class and had all my pictures with me,” she said. The Director of creative services for Nice-Pak, a multi-national consumer products company, happened to be dining in the restaurant and asked to see Roberta’s photos. A business relationship developed and Roberta’s work for the company has appeared in Walmart, Babies ‘R Us, Target just to name a few.
That commercial work allows Roberta to pursue artistic projects. She already has lined up some women to photograph in New York. And this summer she will probably do a gallery show in Capri. While she is photographing her project, mothers and daughters, she is still searching for the perfect title. She’s intrigued by the idea of finding women who have sisters, other relatives, mentors, or good friends whose close relationships would make for fascinating photographs.
What she does know, is that her desire to photograph women will continue. “We are very powerful; we are capable of immense things.” Roberta is evidence of that.
If you would like to be photographed with your mother or daughter as part of Roberta’s New York project, email her at WATExplorer@gmail.com
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: I may be a little bit biased, but I have to say Scalinatella!
Favorite Place to Shop: I love anything that has to do with fashion, but I must confess shoes are my weakness! I love the shoe sales at Bergdorfs & Saks!
Favorite New York Sight: Central Park, it’s a sight to see in all the seasons.
Favorite New York Moment: Coming home from a trip, on the drive in from JFK, when I see the Manhattan skyline and my heart soars because it feels so good to be home.
What You Love About New York: I can find anything from anywhere!
What You Hate About New York: That it’s not as clean as I’d like it to be.