The others. The photography of Lisetta Carmi on di...

The others. The photography of Lisetta Carmi on display in Lecce

The others are everywhere. It is up to the photographic image to understand and restore what can be observed by the eye, communicating with no frills what is placed on the margins of experience. Not in the center, not in the safety of concrete and ideal gathering places, but on the margins. No man’s lands and everyone’s lands, bitter areas, vessels of thoughts, concepts and identities that cannot be mentioned. Here, in the periphery of the visible, you can meet eloquent, dramatic and pulsating details, intense stories, but also bodies crawling with silence. You stumble in social and gender constraints and inequalities, you cross the intimate threshold of houses, you get into the vast spaces of work.

The anthological exhibition Lisetta Carmi – Gli Altri presents in Lecce, in the spaces of the Carlo V Castle, the interesting stages of the photographer’s journey from 1960 to the end of the 1970s. The exhibition, curated by Roberto Lacarbonara, Giovanni Battista Martini and Alessandro Zechini in collaboration with the Lisetta Carmi Archive in Genoa, is the first stage of a project that will arrive in the autumn at the Osvaldo Licini Museum in Ascoli. Over sixty black and white shots recounting the otherness: that of bodies and gazes, gestures and expressions on which life writes true, boundless and insolent multiple stories. The photography of Lisetta Carmi (Genoa, 1924) fixes the leaps in register, passes from one geography to another, climbs on the passions and feelings, on the slopes of irreverent moods, to embrace with the eyes the features of a taciturn, gaunt and shabby expression.

In an obstinate and opposite direction.

For Lisetta Carmi, photography is a means that allows to “understand humanity”, to grasp it with the intellect. Here is contained the purpose of her social and anthropological research, aimed at restoring the poetics of life and its contradictions, the accidents and hyperboles, the immanent and hidden aspects of the social dimension.

In Lisetta Carmi’s shots, the “otherness” is declined in different perspectives. “The others” are the men who lives in the rural areas of the south, but also the workers of the Ligurian steelworks; the urban geographies inhabited by transsexuals; the face of Ezra Pound portrayed in the silence of a fleeting encounter.

In the different sections of the Lecce exhibition, it is possible to find shots dedicated to southern Italy, to the territories of Sardinia, Sicily and Puglia. Here, Lisetta Carmi started photographing in 1960 during a trip with her ethnomusicologist friend Leo Levi, who came to the region to study the songs of the Jewish community of San Nicandro Garganico. And right here in Puglia, in Cisternino near Brindisi, Lisetta founded the Bhole Baba Ashram after meeting the guru Babaji in 1976 in Jaipur.

Her reportage in Sardinia between 1962 and 1976 is particularly interesting; right here during some travels, she discovers the communities of Orgosolo and Calangianus. Here, Lisetta Carmi has the opportunity to learn about the details of the civil and religious life of the island, of which she is able to grasp the most remote and incisive ritual aspects. In Sicily, the photographer records the archaic and traditional aspects of society by translating them into visual documents where the realistic component is mitigated by an essential and vital lyricism.

From the boundless lands of tradition to modern industrial plants. A series of shots by Lisetta focuses on the workplace, restoring its latent contradictions. The Port of Genoa and the Italsider are recounted in concise and inclement shots portraying the harsh working conditions of workers in the ports and in the factories, letting emerge once again the humanity that is the beating heart of history.

A section of the exhibition is then dedicated to the meeting with the American poet Ezra Pound. Twelve shots made in 1966, fleeting and profound, in which Lisetta perfectly knows how to capture the mood of the American writer accused of adhering to fascism, and arrived in Italy, in Sant’Ambrogio di Zoagli, retiring after having spent years in the asylum of St. Elizabeth, Washington.

At the margins of the visible of the society are also placed the shots taken starting in 1965 in Genoa. La Gitana, La Cabiria, La Morena, La Bella Elena, Renée, Pasquale are some of the “transvestites” to whom Lisetta dedicates some of her most authentic and dynamic images, narrating an everyday life on the margins, restoring dignity and freedom to suffering and marginalization of those who for Lisetta are not simply men or women, but “human beings”. The results of this experience converge in 1972 in a publication entitled I travestiti, an essential document that tells in an intimate and radical way the daily life within the community.

The photographic image experienced by Lisetta Carmi is authentic, raw and immediate. To fulfil its semantic function, it must marginalize the aesthetic redundancy, the purely expressive intentions, in order to meet the accidentality of existence and of its actors, it must make an effective incursion, exploring the territories of unpredictability, of everyday life and of the fatigue of work, of the irreverence, of rituality and of tradition, but also the shadow areas of the human soul and psyche, as well as of the body.

Thus, photography becomes a path that constantly searches for truth. The truth of those who have no name. The truth of others.


Lisetta Carmi – Gli altri
06/05/2021 – 05/09/2021
Viale XXV Luglio – Lecce – Puglia

Lisetta Carmi, Cisternino la raccolta delle olive, 1976 ca cm 24 x 30 © Lisetta Carmi-Martini & Ronchetti, Courtesy Archivio Lisetta Carmi

Lisetta Carmi, Ezra Pound, 1966, cm 30 x 40 © Lisetta Carmi-Martini & Ronchetti, Courtesy Archivio Lisetta Carmi

Lisetta Carmi, I travestiti, La Gitana, 1965-1967, cm 30 x 24 © Lisetta Carmi-Martini & Ronchetti, Courtesy Archivio Lisetta Carmi

Lisetta Carmi, I travestiti, La Cabiria, 1965-1970. cm 24 x 30 © Lisetta Carmi-Martini & Ronchetti, Courtesy Archivio Lisetta Carmi


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