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Alessandro Penso

Born Kings

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This work springs from the attempt to explore the human and emotional background of a galaxy showing itself irreverent and proud to exist: the bursting and rebellious Queer community.

From the first Italian “gay pride” to the conquest of real and proper meetings, both at the local and national levels, this exuberant movement, the result of different stories and souls, has looked for a thread with a common language, speaking, above all, about the right to exist. So, in this work, the body becomes the protagonist, the soul and instrument for this assertion. As in “Born Kings” shows, stereotypes are overcome by means of the same stereotypes and, with slashing irony, a temporary identity is sought, to be discarded after a few minutes. The moments preceding the exhibitions are recurrent and it is exactly there that the complexity at the bottom of my research is to be found. The glances emerging from the masks artfully created to frame them and never to hide them are superimposed to the muscles that contract while in the shadows loneliness and affection emerge.

The work started in the spring of 2007, when I met Julia and Ivona. They were starting a “drag king” performance in Italy. For almost two years, whenever it was possible, I followed them in Rome, Milan, Bologna, Latin and Berlin. During this time I chose to add the various artists that I met to my work as well. The performers like J. and I. choose to use their body as an expressive and communication form. Recently, the work evolved into looking for all forms of body communication, like extreme body art or bondage.

I consider this a work in progress, as I am aware that in different cultures the diverse perceptions of the body and communication, and also that time may change both social and expressive needs. I hope to have the possibility to continue this project.

This essay is taking part in “Descubrimientos”, the “international discoveries” competition at Photoespaña in June 2009.

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Alessandro Penso


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

27 thoughts on “alessandro penso – born kings”

  1. “This work springs from the attempt to explore the human and emotional background of a galaxy showing itself irreverent and proud to exist: the bursting and rebellious Queer community.”

    Nonsense. The photographer has gained access to an extreme segment of the “Queer Community,” distorting the “community” and reinforcing stereotypes through this essay. Whatever your goal may be as expressed in your artist’s statement, your photos standing alone only sensationalize the issue.

  2. Sensationalising is part of the game here and only adds to the essay. I would like to see this broken into several essays focusing on various aspects of performance and emotion. Trying to do it all in one could be a difficult undertaking. Either way I am impressed.

  3. i don’t want to know how the photographer gained access but the work itself is just WOW! I am a big fan of this essay.

    Congratulations Alessandro for this wonderful work!

  4. I don’t feel that this work unduly sensationalised the issue but I was intrigued, fascinated and challenged as the work unfolded. There is a degree of sensitivity in the work that emphasises the loneliness and affection to good effect; a good essay. I wonder, however, if it could have been edited slightly to give more impact. Btw – more than just one pixellated image on my screen.

    Thanks, Alessandro – and I’m now going to your website to check out other samples of your work…

  5. There are some really beautiful photos here. I’m quite taken with the group as a whole. Great lighting, lots of drama! I appreciate how non-judgmental the images are… no sense of pity or disdain. It frustrates me that Jim Powers has chosen to focus only on the topic of the essay, rather than the images themselves. His comment felt like an attack… as if somehow a personal choice made by an individual about his/her body and gender could be sensational or bad for other queers. I love burn. I visit the site daily and have enjoyed reading comments, but it is not fair to use this site as a forum for comments like these. Personally, I would rather focus on the work and questions of artistic concern. Jim’s comments seem designed to upset others and to hurt Alessandro and frankly, I can’t see why… Perhaps this essay touched a deep, secret part of Jim that he wants hidden from the world and can’t stand to see embraced by others? That’s my guess.

  6. françois Dupond

    if he was doing this in North Korea it will really bring interest, but…come on…

  7. it is always about intent and always about this…
    and always about sensationalizing and always about that…
    always about voyeurism and always about her… or him…
    it is always about me…

    whichever way the leaf turns it is a leaf… different colors in different seasons
    but it is what it is…

    alessandro, these are very interesting and very nice photos…

  8. Firstly I understand that this is a ‘work in progress’, and therefore will change shape and direction (probably) as it grows. At the moment I find several very strong images, along with quite a lot of what reads like ‘filler’ to me. Storytelling pictures rather than pictures that tell a story if you like.
    The theme of the essay is not clear to me either yet, all that superimposing of masks, temporary identity and slashing irony…I read it in the words but I dont yet see it in the pictures. I think there is definately something you want to say in here, and with these people, and i would like to see it when you are further down the line with it.
    Good luck.

  9. Really strong work Alessandro, I especially like the work that reminded me of the cinematic lighting used by Giovanni Cocco in his beautifully shot essay Sick girl. This is Italy? who knew. I might edit out 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 27, 28 and 29 only because they are not as strong as the other shots You have, which are better lit and have better composition and are gorgeous.

  10. Good point, Francois Dupond.

    Jim, I am not sure he meant the gay community, but actually strictly the “queer” one, more activist and with emphasis on theatricals, which represents itself more than it speaks for all gays. It’s a bit as if, in a totally different register and context, we thought the KKK was about all whites.

    Not to say that queers are gay supremacists…. But then again :-))))

    As usual….The text is bloated, and trying to make points that could rather be found in the pictures, but which I fear the photographer fills in because they are not at all in the pictures. Backstage photography is one of the great subjects in the medium, not sure it needs the intellectualizing you insist lending upon it in your text.

    You mention an exhuberant movement, then invites us backstage, with moody, Degas-esque pictures. Very fine, but are they to tell us about bursting and rebellion? Are they to tell us about a specific complexity withi9n acting out queer stereotypes? Here is the problem with adding a text which aspires to say (too) much.

    I think as a genre study (and for me, this is the genre of “staged Arts”, queer troupe being the mere pretext, or access to it), it stands well. less so representative of what your text seem to be about.

  11. I’m not sure I understand why photographers must communicate a lengthy explanation about their work. A musician puts his/her ideas into the music and the interpretation is left to the audience as is with dance or painting and even in literature. I believe a proper introduction is good and that can be the germ of the idea that led you on the journey but if you can’t say it with your images then try another approach. Creating good images is just the raw material, arranging the images to form an essay is the art. Let the art take on a life of its own, let it speak.
    Good work.

  12. Salvatore, That’s why I never read them before I look at the images. If I have to go back to read the text to understand what I’m seeing, then I don’t think the photography told the necessary story. Here, I didn’t even bother reading the text since the images hit the point beautifully.

    Alessandro, Well done. It reminds me of the “Sick Girl” essay by Giovanni Cocco published here back in Feb. Not exploitative, a little voyeuristic, really expressive. Well done.

  13. Allessandro

    Beautiful beautiful photographs. An inspiration. Subject aside, all the other stuff aside, masterfully done. I’m impressed with your skill and eye.
    Wonderful stuff.

  14. This is yet soaking wet with photographic talent. I hope someday to have even a scrap of this, if only to apply to my family photography.

  15. panos skoulidas

    Now this is once again very “italian”…
    sensual, real…awesome, ferrari-like…
    in other words , too “perfect” for me… too “pro”…
    too 5Dish………… too canon-ish low iso demonstration..
    i could be wrong…
    not only equipment-wise ( could be D3 in 64000 iso ..etc..)
    i could be wrong…
    too “conservative” for me…
    too… hmmmm…..”republican”…….. too … hmmmmmmm S.Palin ( my 14 year old christian daughter is kinda pregnant, trailer trash style ) kinda thing……..

  16. Alessandro, I hope you are continuing to work on this project. Having know many such performers myself, I appreciate the non-sensationalized approach you bring to a subject that is all too often shown as a “freak show.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The folks I’ve known are professionals in the truest sense, creative and talented performers.

    Your choice to work in black and white helps guard against the tendency towards garishness. There are excellent portraits in here that capture so much more than how a person looks. Do you plan to expand the focus and to include scenes from the daily lives of these folks? It might lead you in interesting directions…


  17. Doug and Sally inside
    They cookin’ for the Down Pipe
    Who’s staring at Miss Rayon
    Who’s busy licking off her Pig Pen
    I’m searching for my mainline
    I said I couldn’t hit it sideways
    I said I couldn’t hit it sideways
    Aw just like Sister Ray said
    Whip it on.

  18. I love this one! First, and reading your text I thought that a common place was going to be shown, yet something intimate and fresh comes out of your work. It’s very dificult to find a new angle in a subject that’s already been photographed so many times. You did it! You did it from the inside.

    So strong, and yet so misterious and far away from all the clichés associated to this theme. Love also the light in every photo of this essay, your proximity and freedom to photograph can ne noticed in each photo, and in the entire essay. I can tell by your photos that the subject trusted you and that you also gave a lot of yourself in return. I can feel your dedication and respect in this essay. Bravo!

    Keep on doing it until you feel is done. It remind me so much of Nan Goldin…


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  20. These images hit me in the face. And stays there. Most of all I enjoy the closeness to the subjects. The half mustache as the ending picture is genius. Whatever you might do with this project in the future, please leave that last picture where it belongs.

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