Local photographer’s Cianci encounter ‘classic Rhode Island’

Photos taken by Marisa Bettencourt during a Buddy Cianci photo shoot at India Point Park in 2014.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Marisa Bettencourt has a thriving photography career. She’s the co-owner of a successful studio. She travels. She’s met amazing people. But it was one job in particular that grabbed her family’s attention – when she was tapped to photograph Vincent “Buddy” Cianci for his 2014 mayoral campaign.

“I think I had finally made it in their eyes. It was really quite an honor,” Bettencourt told Eyewitness News.

Bettencourt’s work was front and center Thursday after news of Cianci’s death broke, with several media outlets using one of her images as part of their coverage.

“I never thought about the day Buddy would pass and I never imagined that my image of him would be used in memoriam. I’m truly touched that the image has been chosen to represent his essence in his later years,” she said.

Marisa Bettencourt Photography
Marisa Bettencourt Photography

How Bettencourt came to photograph Cianci at India Point Park on a beautiful summer day in 2014 is “classic Rhode Island.”

It all started in August 2007. Bettencourt said she and her husband went to Costantino’s on Federal Hill to celebrate their anniversary. At the time, her husband, David Bettencourt, was just finishing up production on his first documentary, “You Must be This Tall: The Story of Rocky Point Park.”

“Well, as luck would have it, Buddy was also eating at Costantino’s. David struck up a conversation with Buddy and he agreed to be interviewed for the film,” she said. “His part was incredible and got the biggest laughs in the entire film.”

After that chance encounter, fast forward several years later. Buddy’s campaign manager, Cyd McKenna, contacted David Bettencourt and asked him for referrals for photos and videos for Cianci’s campaign.

Buddy Cianci during a photo shoot at India Point Park in 2014. (Photo: Marisa Bettencourt Photography)
Buddy Cianci during a photo shoot at India Point Park in 2014. (Photo: Marisa Bettencourt Photography)

“He referred me since I was a photographer,” Bettencourt said.

But this was more than a job for the photographer. Buddy Cianci was legendary.

“See, the thing with Buddy is he always kind of felt like family. I’m an Italian-American. I remember going to Federal Hill when the Italian men would hang out on the corners vibrantly speaking Italian,” she said. “I don’t remember the first time I heard his name, I just always knew it. I knew he had done bad things but I also knew he had done very good things for the city of Providence.”

Bettencourt said when she officially met Cianci for the photo shoot he was nice as could be. It was clear why he was the face of Providence for decades.

“I always remain objective when asked to photograph someone. My style is to capture the true essence of whomever I’m shooting,” she said.

Bettencourt snapped away as Cianci held court in the park – interacting with adults, joking around with kids, even popping a squat on the grass to talk to some college kids.

Marisa and Buddy pause for a selfie
Marisa and Buddy pause for a selfie

“He was incredibly charismatic. He spoke to every single person he walked by and related an anecdote to their response to his questions. He literally took a picture with a baby, the classic politician shot!”

While remaining a professional throughout the photo shoot, Bettencourt made sure to document her time spent with the icon.

“At the end of the session we took a selfie, because that’s who he was, a guy who could bring Providence into its renaissance and who would take a selfie with a fan.”

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