Augusto Cantamessa was born in Turin in 1927 and spent the early years of his life in Campiglione Fenile, where his love of photography was born. His first shot, taken with a Bencini camera when he was 18 years old, was of his girlfriend Felicita, whom he subsequently married. He frequented the Società Fotografica Subalpina, renamed FIAF in 1948, where he was able to compare notes with the most famous photographers in Turin, and others from further afield. His subsequent move to Turin to take up a new job as industrial manager changed the scenario for his photographic exploration. During this time, he came into contact with various amateur photography groups active in the city in addition to the Subalpina, such as the Associazione Fotografica Italiana (AFI) and the Centro Culturale FIAT.
The self-taught Cantamessa developed a visual culture that followed compositional rules derived from art history, and photography soon went from being a hobby to an irreplaceable existential need for him. His photographs started earning recognition and prizes in many competitions. In 1957, the Fédération Internationale de l’Art Photographique bestowed the honorary title of Artiste de la FIAP (AFIAP) on him for the awards that he had also won internationally. Despite the many pressing demands of his job, Cantamessa’s frantic years in Turin did not undermine his passion for photography, to which he returned with great dynamism following a pause to carry out work on his new house in Bricherasio. In the tranquil countryside around Pinerolo, encouraged by the potential of the new digital technology, he found the stimuli for a new photographic chapter at the Circolo Pipino.
Over the years, Cantamessa’s pictures have become a fixture of national and international fine photography exhibitions, winning many important awards. His work is featured in the collections of prestigious cultural institutions in Italy and abroad, such as the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Centro Italiano della Fotografia d’Autore in Bibbiena, in the province of Arezzo, and the Fondazione 3M in Pioltello, in the province of Milan. He has displayed his work in countless solo and collective exhibitions: at the Nasher Museum of Art and Duke University, Durham, North Carolina (USA), the Keith De Lellis Gallery in New York (USA), and the Musée de l’Elysée in Switzerland on several occasions over the years. The Italian Embassy in Romania invited him to display his photographs in a one-man exhibition entitled Delega per un Autoritratto at the Bucharest Municipal Museum. In 2013, he was awarded honorary citizenship of the Municipality of Villafranca, which had commissioned him to photograph the 15th-century frescoes in the chapel of Santa Maria di Missione. The resulting pictures were displayed at the exhibition staged to present the restoration project and published in the book edited by Umberto Allemandi, in 2014. On occasion of his 90th birthday, in 2017, the Galleria FIAF in Turin celebrated his career by holding a retrospective of his work. In 2018, the president of the FIAF, Roberto Rossi, and the managing committee awarded Augusto Cantamessa the highest Italian honorary title: Maestro della Fotografia Italiana (MFI), a prestigious award that places him in the small circle of great Italian photographers. The occasion was celebrated with an exhibition at the Fortezza del Girifalco in Cortona, in the province of Arezzo. The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York is currently in the process of purchasing one of the photographer’s works. (Bio by Bruna Genovesio)