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Gaetano Catelli: Once A New Yorker, Forever A Southerner

Gaetano Catelli had a wild hair in the summer of 2008 to see Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as an adult.

Catelli’s father was raised in Pine Bluff and no matter how long he lived in New York, he’d always claim to be a native of Pine Bluff.

“My father spent the last 60 years of his life in New York,” Catelli said. “If you had asked him on the last day of his life ‘Ed, where are you from?’ he would have said ‘Pine Bluff.’ If he had been in New York for 600 years, he would have said ‘Pine Bluff.'”

Catelli said that his initial plan on that summer day was to fly into Memphis and rent a car to drive to Pine Bluff, but his plan was altered when he saw a Mississippi town 230 miles to the east.

“I looked at the road map and saw that Tupelo was not that far out of the way,” Catelli said. “I got to Memphis, and this wasn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy I wasn’t expecting at all, but for the first time in my life I felt like I was in my home with my people.”

After spending some time in the city where Elvis Presley was born, Catelli returned to New York for two more years before seeing a movie starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek titled “Get Low.” Catelli said that the movie portrayed Southerners as normal as opposed to “gothic monsters.” Thus even though multiple awards groups nominated the film, Hollywood refused to give it a single nomination for an Oscar.

“Southerners have souls. Yankees have iPads,” Catelli said. “That night I was making mad plans to move to Oxford.”

Catelli finally arrived to Oxford and has been here since October 2010.

He is a renowned photographer that can be seen throughout Oxford taking pictures of people and personalities.

He got his start in photography from his ex wife’s mother, who had bought her husband the most expensive Nikon on the market. After their breakup, he picked up the camera and started taking pictures at New College eventually learning to love the art of photography.

“I just took off. I just had an eye for it right away,” Catelli said. “Musical instruments, not at all. Photography, yeah.”

Catelli quickly realized once he moved to Oxford the different landscape and challenges that photographers face here.

“There’s so much more drama in a smaller place than there is in a larger place,” Catelli said. “It seems whereas people in New York expect to be photographed. Here, they think you’re violating their constitutional rights.”

Catelli has authored two books “Behind Lesbia’s Door” and “SS Daughter, Book I: A Love Story.” The second of which details Marlena Berlin, whose father was a part of the Nazi Germany regime, and her move from Germany to the United States with only 30 dollars to her name.

Catelli is home now. He’s made this place, this city, that so many of us hold dear, his home. He’s claimed Lafayette County and all of the Southern charm that surrounds it as the place that he wants to live the rest of his life.

“I don’t expect to leave except as ashes in an urn… if I have any common sense, ” Catelli said. “This is it.”


Collin Brister a reporter for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at collin.brister@hottytoddy.com.

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