Poetry and harsh reality. And deep courage. One could thus describe the work of Lisetta Carmi, the great pioneer photographer who died at the age of 98. Audacious and unconventional, she used the camera as a tool for social denunciation and documentation of uncomfortable realities
She is the first to document the LGBTQ community in Italy. “Thanks to [the trans community], I learned to accept myself. When I was a child I looked at my brothers, Eugenio and Marcelo, and I wanted to be a boy. I knew I didn’t want to get married, and I rejected the roles society assigned to women. The transvestites made me ponder over the right that we all have to determine our own identity.”
Carmi chronicled these women with a tender gaze, exempt from judgement and never veering into invasive voyeurism. Gender identity was entirely outside the vocabulary of the time: it was addressed solely in scientific studies, but Carmi was never clinical either. She lent dignity and beauty to the masked realities of sex work. She normalized the gestures of the women dressing up, applying make-up before mirrors, doting on each other in moments of lounge-y camaraderie—instinctively revealing, in these innocuous moments, the sensuality of their silhouettes. The shimmering pink lips, kohl-rimmed eyes, lace-trimmed slips, and sheer stockings have the feel of a girlish confidentiality, a grown-up sleepover party.
One question comes to mind: What will Lisetta Carmi think of Cloe Bianco, a transgender professor, a victim of the violence of the social model in which we live?