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Mirella by oliver bruck

An Evening of Adventure with Mirella Ricciardi: Premiere of Film “Mirella” at the Royal Geographic Society

About Mirella Ricciardi

Mirella Ricciardi (née Rocco) is a celebrated photographer best known for her evocative high contrast black and white images that capture her subject’s essence and spirit.

Born 14th July 1931 and raised in Kenya, near Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, Mirella Ricciardi initially began experimenting with a camera at a young age after her mother suggested photography would be an interesting ‘hobby’, contrary to the beliefs of that time that a woman’s place was in her home. Mirella quickly fell in love with the photography medium and later began developing her style in the Paris studios of the early fifties under the tutelage of Vogue fashion photographer, Harry Meerson. Later in Rome, a chance meeting with the film director Michelangelo Antonioni prompted a brief career change to an actress where she appeared in Antonioni’s film L’Eclisse (1962). This gave her the opportunity to interact with the masters of the visual story-telling world, both cinematographers and actors working in Rome at the time. From them she learnt the art of camera angles and the use of lenses and techniques, which together with her Parisian experience, formed her signature style. Mirella preferred to be behind the lens rather than in-front of it, so she could remain anonymous in order to hone her photographic passion. This led to a series of telling portraits of actors, namely Monica Vitti, Gina Lollobrigida and Alain Delon, to name a few.

Driven by her love of photography and a desire to keep exploring, Mirella Ricciardi set out on her nomadic wanderings around the world in search of images with contextually interesting stories.

Over a sixty year period, she has captured an array of different cultures around the world through her photographs. Starting out in Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, she photographed the customs and ceremonies of important tribes in East Africa, culminating in her seminal book, Vanishing Africa (1971). Her photographs have been described as “having the integrity of spontaneous, intuitive documents made with the deep love of someone who knew and understood their subject” (Phillipe Garner, former head of International Photography at Christies auction house).

Subsequent adventures and assignments resulted in further photographic studies of the inhabitants of the various regions she visited. For instance, in the 1970s, she travelled from the Middle East to the East coast of Africa, on board an Arabian dhow, following the monsoon trade route which sailors have travelled for thousands of years. Inadvertently, this adventure set the precedence for a new direction in her photographic journey, as it allowed her to accurately portray the peoples, events and places she visited.

In the 1980s, Mirella Ricciardi was sent on assignments to cover war and famine zones in Africa for various publications. Her ability to convey the atmosphere of the event and therefore preserve a moment forever spurred her on to continue using this medium as a form of story telling in her reportage assignments. Her quest to bring visibility to issues facing humanity led her to embark on her next adventure with her husband Lorenzo Ricciardi and their team. On this 21-month equatorial expedition across Africa, Mirella documented their journey travelling from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic on the rivers and lakes of Central Africa, in 1985

In 1990, Mirella Ricciardi was commissioned by Orion publishers to produce a book about the native people of the Amazon Rainforest as seen here in this exhibition. This caught the attention of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) who invited her to partake in a 70 minute video diary programme about her experience in the forest and among its people.

All these adventures have culminated in the publications of four books; The Voyage of the Mir-el-Lah (1980), African Rainbow (1989), Vanishing Amazon (1991) and African Visions (2000).

There is a defining factor that links Mirella Ricciardi’s images, regardless of geography and subject matter. She attributes this to her instinctive reaction to capturing an image. “My rapid reactive decisions are very definite and rarely falter...speed is the defining factor which does not allow for hesitancy... my immediate decisions depend very much on the subject matter and lighting conditions in front of my lens, it is this instinctive reaction that I never question that defines my style.

In the later part of her life, Mirella Ricciardi has turned to hand colour and experimented with past works to form mixed media prints. In doing so, she has taken the time to digest her life's work and understand the significance and impact of her photographs. This potential has been a collaborative effort with her daughter, Amina Ricciardi-Dempsey, custodian of her mother’s archive, ‘Vanishing Africa Ltd’. In 2007, Amina first discovered her mother’s work stored away and forgotten in their childhood home in Kenya. Upon retrieving the work and returning it to the UK, Amina realised she had fallen upon an extraordinary photographic treasure of historical and cultural significance.

Together, mother and daughter have dedicated the past 15 years to preserving the photographer’s legacy, cataloguing her extensive library of negatives and transparencies. This project has attracted art collectors and fans, which has brought the work back into the public domain.

About Mirella Ricciardi

Mirella Ricciardi was born into a stimulating Franco-Italian lineage and brought up in Kenya. The prophetic gift of a camera caught her imagination; after apprenticeships in Paris and New York, she had the skills to give a purpose to her nomadic instincts and to her intense curiosity. With her equally independent-spirited husband, Lorenzo, life was defined by their shared appetite for adventure.

Today, Mirella Ricciardi's archive, of words and of images, bears poignant and inspiring witness to a world that has gone, to the ways of life of people's in Africa, in what was evocatively called 'Arabia', and in unspoilt territories of South America. Further chapters record their involvement in the glamorous worlds of film and of fashion in Rome, Paris, and London.

Phillipe Garner, Former Head of International Photography, Christies, 2008

Mirella on location photographing a man
New film


An Evening of Adventure with Mirella Ricciardi: Premiere of Film “Mirella”
at the Royal Geographic Society

This very special evening at the prestigious Royal Geographical Society will celebrate the premiere of the feature-length documentary film "Mirella", the adventurous story of the legendary photographer Mirella Ricciardi, who captured the vanishing beauty of life with her camera.

The director of “Mirella”, Oliver Bruck, is an award-winning documentarian and biologist. In 2019, he released his debut documentary feature "Exploring Hans Hass", a rediscovery of life and work of the legendary diving pioneer and filmmaker.

The event will feature a short keynote talk by photographer Mirella Ricciardi who celebrates her 92nd birthday this year. The renowned photographer, born in Kenya, began capturing the beauty and diversity of the African continent with her camera in the 1960s. Her seminal book "Vanishing Africa", published in 1971, became an international success and her work continues to inspire.

The event will also include an update on the work from the Mirella Ricciardi Archive by archivist and founder Amina Ricciardi-Dempsey. VIP ticket holders will also have access to a drinks/canapés reception with a special Q&A with the photographer Mirella Ricciardi, the director Oliver Bruck and the main film team, with original work by Mirella Ricciardi on display.

MIRELLA Film Premiere Poster

The Mirella Ricciardi Archive

By Amina Ricciardi-Dempsey, Director, Vanishing Africa Ltd.

Finding a lost archive is as exciting as finding treasure. It was my Tutankhamen moment as I was rummaging around in the dark recesses of the cellars in my family’s old Art-Deco house, deep in rural Kenya. In 2007 I had travelled to Africa after an absence of many years, to our farm on the shores of Lake Naivasha at the bottom of the Great Rift Valley, where my grandparents had settled. It was here that my mother Mirella Ricciardi and her two siblings were born and raised. I was returning to collect her belongings that had been in storage for over thirty years. There in an old Zanzibar Chest, I came across the original archive of one of the great twentieth century photographic recorders of Africa. Reflecting on the importance of this hidden and long forgotten archive, I realised its current historical and cultural significance and became aware that, as the modern world denudes their way of life, these images of rapidly disappearing native cultures are part of our ancient global heritage.

Mirella Ricciardi

FINE ART Collections

The following are small selections from the thousands of photographs that Mirella Ricciardi took over the course of her sixty-year career.  Mirella consistently worked across genres, encompassing wildlife, portrait, reportage, and fashion photography.  Click on an image for information about the photograph.

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Vanishing Africa

Vanishing Africa is a valuable historical record of East Africa's traditional customs and ceremonies.

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Vanishing Africa - Colour Collection

Vanishing Africa is a valuable historical record of East Africa's traditional customs and ceremonies.

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Vanishing Amazon

This collection takes a tour through three Indigenous communities in the Amazon, sharing the vision of a woman, mother, and artist.

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Hand Coloured Collection

Contemporary mixed media hand colour archival pigment prints.

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Mali, West Africa, 1984

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The Baschet Collection, 1957 Paris

François Baschet, A New Sound in Music, 1957

“…an epic journey into the heart of one of the most inaccessible regions on earth…haunting in its imagery and startling in its beauty…”

“…Mirella’s timeless classic and now rare first book capturing the beauty and dignity of African life…”

Books, Catalogues & Magazine

The Voyage of the Mir-el-lah by Lorenzo Ricciardi

“…the tale of a modern Sinbad…a tale of a man whose dream came true…”

Books, Catalogues & Magazine

African Visions: The Diary of an African Photographer

“….a testament to an extraordinary life…the chronicler of the changing fortunes of a vast and compellingly beautiful continent…”

“…one of the strangest stories of life & death to come out of Africa…there have been no family stories quite like this one….”

Books, Catalogues & Magazine

African Rainbow: Across Africa By Boat

“…the first known crossing of Africa by boat from the Indian to the Atlantic Oceans…navigating hazardous waterways in the footsteps of Livingston…”


Mirella has published a number of books.

Vanishing Africa Cover

Vanishing Africa

Mirella Ricciardi
William Collins Sons and Co Ltd
London 1971
ISBN 0 00 2118769

The Voyage of the Mir-El-Lah

Lorenzo and Mirella Ricciardi
William Collins Sons and Co Ltd
London 1980
ISBN 0 00 211887 4

African Saga

Mirella Ricciardi
William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd
London 1982
ISBN 0-002175126

African Rainbow - Across Africa by Boat

Lorenzo and Mirella Ricciardi
William Morrow and Company, Inc.
New York 1989
First published by Ebury Press an imprint of Century Hutchinson Ltd, London 1989
ISBN 0-688-08959-3

Vanishing Amazon

Mirella Ricciardi
Harry N Abrams Inc.
New York 1991
ISBN 0 8109 3915 0

African Visions: The Diary of an African

Mirella Ricciardi
Weidenfeld and Nicolson
London 2000
ISBN 1 841 88162 7



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