Alia Romagnoli’s photography depicts South Asian selfhood in all its colourful glory

Living between London and Bangalore, the photographer centres on marginalised narratives to create beautifully rich, expressive and multifaceted images.

Date
12 January 2022

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Alia Romagnoli’s photography journey began as a process of precious memorialisation. Having “always loved the idea of freezing a moment in time and being able to keep it forever,” as a child, Alia used the small Kodak point and shoot camera their grandma had given them to take photos of school trips, flowers and their friends and family. Collecting these photos, they created scrapbooks and time capsules which they would then eventually gift to their loved ones. This compassionate and deeply personal relationship with photography defines Alia’s work to this day, with their sensitive portrayals of South Asian identity, queer folk and mother-daughter relationships.

Growing up in Bangalore, Alia moved to London where they specialised in production design for film. Building their photography portfolio alongside their degree and being open to new friendships, connections and opportunities, they see their move as the moment that “pushed them to be a better photographer” and turned their hobby into a career path. But, simultaneously, it also importantly allowed them to “appreciate life back home.”

After pursuing a career in photography, Alia attests to originally not realising “how much cinema influenced the way I work as well as my inspirations,” but they now embrace their various passions and skills, letting them all feed into their work. Most of their photography takes place in studios because they enjoy “being able to create an environment through lighting and set design.” Having worked with little to no budget as a student Alia describes their approach as DIY, and this thrifty nature – “using expired film, sourcing second-hand equipment through eBay and car boot sales, and buying scrap fabric for backdrops from the market” – has served them well. Eclectic and charming, Alia’s sets make their work stand out. Orange sequined backdrops, rows of luminescent flowers and hot pink curtains inject an unrivalled vibrancy and vivacity into their images. But the influence of film and cinema doesn’t only translate to Alia’s methodology, but their output too. Explaining their attraction to such vivid, over-saturated colour, they cite old Bollywood films and their “distinctive colour palette” as a central influence and they strive to emulate the same dynamic “energy” in their work.

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Alia Romagnoli: Row and Maymana (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2019)

Being so well attuned to artfully depicting close relationships, it is no surprise that Alia’s favourite series is their ongoing project Mothers & Daughters. It began a number of years ago when Alia wanted to explore “intergenerational matriarchal relationships in South Asian households.” Using a mix of illustration and photography, they collaborated with mothers and daughters over London to create a moving series of photos. In one, a mother sits while the daughter stands, her hand resting on her mother’s shoulder. With the matching colour scheme of their clothing, the glinting accessories and their shared expression, the picture represents the powerful unification of two generations of South Asian women. However, Alia observes the series as having grown in pertinence over the course of the pandemic: “I spent a lot of time in India and was able to turn my lens back on those closest to me and it really felt like a full-circle moment for the project.”

Whilst Alia may be so successful in depicting others and their experiences, their photography has also been a way for them to navigate and understand their own identity. “I grew up with a lot of censorship when it came to queer narratives in the media,” they tell It’s Nice That, “it was only when I moved to London and met so many inspiring people from the South Asian LGBTQIA+ community that I was able to understand and be proud of my own identity.” Since that point, centring such narratives in their work has been a way for them to “create the representation I needed growing up.”

Teasing us with some insider knowledge on an upcoming project, Alia tells us that for the past six months they have been creating a series “unlike anything [they] have ever done before.” Adopting “more of a documentary approach,” the series has allowed them to “showcase other people’s stories and histories more vividly, which was new but extremely exciting.” With hopes of it developing into a book and exhibition, the next year looks set to be an exciting one for Alia.

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Alia Romagnoli: Mothers & Daughters (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2020)

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Alia Romagnoli: Monsoon Season i (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2020)

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Alia Romagnoli: Monsoon Season i (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2020)

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Alia Romagnoli: Glamrou for Shado Mag (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2020)

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Alia Romagnoli: Aqsi (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2020)

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Alia Romagnoli: Linasha (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2020)

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Alia Romagnoli: Linasha (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2020)

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Alia Romagnoli: Alia, Self Portrait, 2019 (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2019)

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Alia Romagnoli: Monsoon Season ii (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2020)

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Alia Romagnoli: Sparked for Huq That i (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2018)

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Alia Romagnoli: Sammy (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2020)

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Alia Romagnoli: Sparked for Huq That iii (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2018)

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Alia Romagnoli: Samhita (Copyright © Alia Romagnoli, 2021)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in illustration, photography, ceramic design and platforming creativity from the north of England.

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