Marina Rosso – The Beautiful Gene

Marina Rosso

The Beautiful Gene

In 2011 the world’s largest sperm bank stopped accepting red-haired donors for a period of time: which was the starting point for the photo research The Beautiful Gene by the photographer Marina Rosso, developed as editorial project by Fabrica during the time Marina was there. The reason for this refusal, which was to be partially withdrawn, seems to have been a straightforward marketing choice: demand was too low. Single women, the category that is turning to sperm banks more and more, tend to choose a donor answering to all the characteristics of a “Prince Charming”: the perfect man, handsome and healthy, educated in the best schools. And red hair is rarely included in these personal desires.

Marina Rosso has been looking into this idea: red-heads now seem to be on the point of being eliminated through a conspiracy of online questionnaires, aseptic clinics and frozen sperm. She decided to act as a conservation biologist who classifies the genetic variations of a species as a first step to preserving its diversity and components. She started by creating a matrix that would represent the red hair gene across 48 categories, each uniquely combining this feature with five physical traits (gender, height, build, eye colour and hair type). Then she set out on a journey all over Europe, looking for real people who could literally embody these categories. The result of her research are 47 portraits (one category is still missing), selected among the 204 shots of people from Italy, United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Poland.

About her work, Marina says: “The idea was born not directly from considerations on red hair, but it is the result of a research I was doing on artificial insemination. I have always been fascinated by bioethics, in particular by the shifting of morals boundaries“.




Marina Rosso (Udine, Italy 1985) is a fine art photographer. After getting a bachelor’s degree in Architecture, she studied photography at Ostkreuzschule in Berlin, followed by a scholarship at Fabrica, the Benetton Group’s communication research center, under the editorial direction of Enrico Bossan. She has been published in different newspapers and magazines such as IL sole 24 ore, Internazionale, Amica and The Sunday Times Magazine. Her last work, The Beautiful Gene, has been hosted at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin and at Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia in Milan. She recently opened Alpis, a video production company which focuses on multimedia storytelling and eclectic projects. The Beautiful Gene is her first book.

Fabrica is the research centre on communication founded in 1994, which invites young creative people from all over the world to a one-year residency as well as the opportunity to develop research projects in various disciplines, including design, communication, photography, coding, video, music, journalism and media.


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Marina Rosso

The Beautiful Gene



14 Responses to “Marina Rosso – The Beautiful Gene”

  • Love the idea and the execution

  • I am fascinated by red hair (or, in my case any hair!!)….Redheads stand out….The one fact missing in this text, is how many redheads there are in the world…I am really curious….There cannot be very many. Also very curious about, will redheads totally disappear in the next hundred years or so?

    Joel Meyerowitz did a book REDHEADS about 30 years ago. See if you can dig it up. He did portraits as well yet a bit less clinical so to speak than has Marina. He used their environment a bit.

    The simplicity and lack of emotion in Marina’s work takes it definitely into the art world rather than the photojournalism world. Yet it is documentary at the end.

    We never tire of looking at faces. We are obsessed with looking at faces. Add some red hair and the beat goes on…

    Cheers, David

  • @ MARINA, I’m sure that you already know, there is a festival in Holland at the end of summer

    maybe you could also dig there and going on with this kind of series.
    Ci vediamo. P.

  • hharry: thanks a lot!

    david alan harvey: Hi David! thanks for sharing these considerations! Redheads represent generally 1% of population. There are some zones where you can find them more, such as Scotland where the percentage raises up to 13%. Even though the gene is recessive, unlikely it will disappear. Cheers, Marina

    patricio m.: Last year I travelled all around Europe attending all the redheads conventions. I did many photos in Holland. My goal was to finish the project finding, and then shooting, 48 different typologies of people according to the matrix I’ve invented. So, I won’t do any more portraits of redheads! :)

  • My high school/early college love was a redhead. So beautiful she was – and smart, too.


    I have seen a few other red head series, including the Joel Meyerowitz work (30 years ago? Really? That long so quickly?) but none of these included the kind of information about the banning of red-headed sperm donors and the threat of redheads disappearing, so Marina’s project has taken on new import for me.


    1% of the world population? wow. that seems high….I would never have guessed that ….In any case, thank for this fine work…..I look forward to seeing the book……..

    cheers, david

  • David, I’ve always been smitten with red-heads and eventually married one.

    She appears almost daily on my facebook page.

    I found Meyerowitz’s book in soft cover on Amazon a couple of years ago, it’s great fun, though sadly not well reproduced.

    Thanks for these Marina.


    “I’m not a scientist,” she said, only a photographer. “Pictures should give people the possibility to think about things that they wouldn’t usually.”

  • Frostfrog: I didn’t know this work of Joel Meyerowitz on redheads. Thanks for sharing it!

    David Alan Harvey: Hope to meet you soon or later. I was reading again the first comment you made, and
    I’ve realized I’ve missed this sentence of yours, really interesting to discuss: “The simplicity and lack of emotion in Marina’s work takes it definitely into the art world rather than the photojournalism world. Yet it is documentary at the end”.
    I have to admit this was one of my intentions. I wanted to talk on a journalistic fact by using an aesthetic which usually it’s not related to documentation. It seems that documentary photography finds to often a unique codified language of aesthetics to tell its stories. I often ask myself: Is it the best way for it? Aren’t there any others possibilities? How can we change this situation? Is it correct to change it? Are media pushing this kind of aesthetics? And photo agencies? Why the photography field is so codified into sections? Personally, I still don’t know all the answers but of course, in my future works, I’ll try as much as possible to push this aesthetic boundaries.

    Carlo: shouldn’t it be always like that?

  • Marina, this is very well done a more thought-provoking than a simple celebration of redheads as seen in Joel Meyerowitz, Howard Schatz etc’s work. You may not be a scientist but I really like how you approached this “scientifically.” The cataloging almost seems a bit sinister but draws into the very serious ideas about genetic selection and engineering.

    To your point about documentary work I would say this project is a literal interpretation of the actual work. You have created documents of people with red hair, and incorporated documentation of their other features. The simplicity David mentions is key to this.

    I found the work and ideas fascinating given my toddler son is a redhead, despite my wife and I both being brown-haired. My mother was a redhead, but we’ve yet to see exactly where the mutated gene comes from on my wife’s side. Ed, proud Parent of a Ginger (POAG).

  • Marina,

    If ones work sparks curiosity and raises questions then I think you are onto something….

    But more specifically I think there is pleasure in “just” shooting….no agenda…no assignment…no work….just shooting, plain and simple. Relax and go with the flow with camera or no camera in hand. I think even without the camera you still frame things and see pictures everywhere….not trying to come up with “iconic” photos…..and being serious and uptight all the time.

  • a civilian-mass audience


    welcome home and yes…”Redheads represent generally 1% of population.”
    According to my lists and after many years of research …here, in BURNLAND, we have ALL the redheads…!!!

    thank you for sharing !

  • Marina,

    I love love red heads. When I was very young, I read ‘Anne of Green Gables’ of Lucy Maud Montgomery. After that I has been fascinated by red heads. Actually I tried to dye my hair red long years ago. :)

    It is very nice work.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Kyunghee Lee

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