On New Year’s Eve in 1965, photographer Lisetta Carmi met and photographed a group of transvestites living and working on the Via de Campo in Genoa, Italy. It was the beginning of a seven year relationship with the group, considered outsiders by Italian society, and led to the publication of I Travestiti, an incredibly controversial book of all the images Lisetta took over this stretch of time. Now, almost 50 years later, Jacopo Benassi, a photographer already famed for his work documenting prostitution and gay culture, has retraced Lisetta’s original steps, tracking down the two remaining subjects from that body of Lisetta’s work – Rossella and Ursula.
Both Lisetta’s and Jacopo’s photographs of Via del Campo’s fabulous subjects will be exhibited side by side at the Pomo Galerie’s new exhibition Princese, documenting the progression of Italy’s once repressive attitude toward transvestites, as well as the two photographers’ bond with their subjects.
How did you first come across Lisetta Carmi’s photography? How did you relate to it?
A dear friend of mine, a photographer, introduced me to Lisetta’s work few years ago – I had also spent time photographing transvestites, drag queens and general queer culture in the early 1990s, so seeing her photos was a walk down memory lane, and love at first sight.
Which is your favourite image of hers, and why?
I don’t have a single image that I would call my favourite – I fall in love with bodies of work, not with single images. I really love her work on transvestites, it’s incredible!
What made you decide to track down Rosella and Ursula?
While talking to my gallerist (also Lisetta’s one), the desire to meet the princesses of Via del Campo [Via del Campo is a street in Genova where many transvestites live and work] again came to me immediately – it’s as exciting as taking a kid to Gardaland! [Gardaland is like an Italian version of Disneyland.]
“My photos are always my photos, they wouldn’t change even if I’d had a relationship with Helmut Newton.”
Was it easy to find them?
Yes, and it’s been an amazing process! We talked a lot and didn’t shoot that many photos – we were laughing so much! It was emotional and fuelled by adrenaline. It was like meeting old friends.
How much time did you spend together? What did you do?
We spent half a day together and visited every single pied a terre in Via del Campo.
What was the best thing that happened while you were shooting? Do you have any stories?
The thing that is the most wondrous is that they’re there, in Via del Campo, doing whatever they’ve been doing for the past 40 years as if time had stopped. The thing that made the biggest impression on me is that we use the same lube!
Do you feel differently about your own photography now having worked so closely with Lisetta’s images?
My photos are always my photos, they wouldn’t change even if I’d had a relationship with Helmut Newton.
Lisetta Carmi and Jacopo Benassi: Princese will run from 16 January until 13 February at Milan’s Pomo Galerie.
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