He was born on November 10, 1960, in Santo Domingo, of Cuban and Italian background. He spent his childhood attending schools in Santo Domingo, Italy and Puerto Rico. In the late 1970s, he attended Southern Adventist University, where he majored in both biology and chemistry, hoping to pursue a career in medicine. During his last year of college, after purchasing a camera, Paganelli read a magazine article about the photographer Ansel Adams. He was so curious about Adams' work that he dialed information for Carmel-by-the-Sea, California and called Adams directly on the telephone. Their first conversation together led to a long friendship and Adams mentored and motivated Paganelli until he died in 1984. Paganelli discusses this important relationship and how it guided his photography in LensCulture.
During the summer of 1983, a few weeks after his first conversation with Adams, Paganelli got his first photography job at the Chattanooga Times. The next year, he was part of the International Olympic Press Pool covering the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
In 1985, Paganelli moved to Washington, DC, to work for Agence France Presse. After working there for seven months, he grew tired of the poor treatment given to photographers at that news agency, and decided to begin a freelance career. His regular clients became the Washington Post, USA Today, and Reuters and Forbes. Since then, his clientele has grown and his photos have appeared on the covers and inside pages of Sports Illustrated, Life, Time, People, Newsweek, Business Week, Bloomberg, Der Stern, Der Spiegel, Entertainment Weekly, Vibe, and Readers Digest. One of the highlights of his career is a photograph he took of Cal Ripken Jr after he broke Lou Gehrig's record for the most consecutive games played which became the cover for Sports Illustrated in 1995.
In the summer of 2011, one of his images was selected for exhibition in the Art of Photography Show in San Diego.
In the summer of 2012, Paganelli was invited for a photo show in St Petersburg, Russia, of his Black Cowboys documentary series at the prestigious Manege Museum during the Photo Vernissage 2012. He also gave a few TV and radios interviews to Russian stations.
Paganelli currently resides in Los Angeles, California and when he is not traveling the world on freelance assignments and with the International Photo Workshop, he spends his time with his family, their two dogs, Irish Wolf Hound and a Tibetan Terrier, riding his Vespas and practicing martial arts which he learned as a child from master Bruce Lee.
In addition to his life long work for magazines and advertising, Paganelli has also worked on many independent projects throughout his entire career as an artist.
In the late 1980s, Paganelli was one of the few U.S. photographers to visit Cuba. This work culminated in his first exhibit in 1995, which earned him a fellowship award from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Frank Van Riper reviewed the exhibit for the Washington Post and wrote that "Manuello Paganelli’s Cuban photographs are a brilliant window on a land and people too long hidden from North American eyes. Working in the tradition of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, Paganelli brings an artist’s eyes and a native son’s sensibility to his superb photographs." In an interview by the Richmond Times Dispatch at the opening of his Cuba photo exhibit, Paganelli talks about meeting and photographing Gregorio Fuentes, whom Ernest Hemingway used as a model for The Old Man and the Sea. In the same interview, Paganelli talks about finding his long-lost family which was separated in 1959 after the Cuban revolution.
In the fall of 2016, Paganelli released a new documentary photography book Cuba: A Personal Journey, Photographs 1989-2015 with over 115 black and white images that celebrate Cuba—its cuisine, music, dance, and everyday life—persisting in the midst of varying political pressures and economical complexities. Articles about his book were featured on the British Journal of Photography and Fast Company as well as an interview with LensCulture.
Manuello Paganelli is the creator of the International Photography Workshop (IPW) an organization that runs documentary photography workshops in countries all over the world. The International Photography Workshop is run entirely by full time magazine photographers from publications such as Time, Life, and Sports Illustrated. The current workshop locations include Cuba, Bolivia, Poland, China, Washington DC, Myanmar, Mexico and Romania. Other professional photographers around the world also teach the workshops in each of the countries.
In the early 1990s, Paganelli began working on his Black Cowboys series, sponsored by Emerge magazine, where he traveled across the United States documenting the daily lives of black cowboys. In March 2009, his body of work was featured at The Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, California. Then, in the summer of 2012, Paganelli was invited to present the series at the prestigious Moscow Manege (Манеж) in St. Petersburg, Russia during the Photo Vernissage.
Paganelli's photos have appeared on the covers and inside pages of Sports Illustrated, Life, Time, People, Newsweek, Business Week, Bloomberg, Der Stern, Der Spiegel, Entertainment Weekly, Vibe, and Readers Digest. He has photographed all kinds of celebrities including sports stars, actors and actresses, models, musicians and more.Watch videos of behind the scenes photo shoots with Paganelli and actress Elisabeth Röhm and television personlity Guy Fieri.
Frederick Van Johnson talks with Manuello Paganelli about his career, friendship with Ansel Adams and other things
In the mid-1990s, Paganelli began to shoot black and white nude female figures. As with his black and white documentary photographs, this body of work was done with film which he processed and printed himself in his darkroom.