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Unleashing Storms

Photographer Lina Pallotta’s latest book intertwines the tale of a lifelong friendship with the personal and political life of a legendary Italian trans activist, Porpora.

“We met in front of a barricade one had to cross in order to attend a trial of the NAP, a Neapolitan armed group. Our first encounter was in front of a police barrage in Naples.” This is how photographer Lina Pallotta recalls the moment she first met Porpora, years before she became a photographer, and before Porpora became Porpora. 

“At the time her name was still Domenico, but she always was different. There was something else engraved on her body, in her cherubic face”, says the photographer. In the Italy of the 1970s there was no definition of “trans”, nor a movement associated with it, while the LGB world was just starting to emerge.

© Lina Pallotta
© Lina Pallotta

After an initial bond born out of their shared political activism, the two women developed a strong friendship that kept them connected throughout phases of life in Naples, Rome, Bologna, and New York, where Lina Pallotta moved to pursue a career in photography. 

A section at the end of the book includes about 150 images and documents from the archives of Italian LGBTQI+ associations, freeing the author from the burden of visually representing the movements’ historical milestones. 

Lina Pallotta rather focuses on the thick atmospheres characterizing the cities where she and Porpora lived, fleeting gestures and unspecific moments. “I was always interested in photographing the mundane rather than what could be relevant for reportage. I found meaning photographing Porpora in a way that defied the expectations. It still seems to me the only way to debunk any prejudice, and let the everyday come through”.

© Lina Pallotta

Over the years, the camera became a natural part of their friendship. In front of it, Porpora could be so naturally herself that she never turned into a “character” and her appearance took the backseat for her personality to reveal itself. There is no particular emphasis on her sexuality, her body, her makeup. No dwelling on dramatic moments of struggle, no chronology, no specific turns of the plot. “I wanted to collect moments of intensity”, says the photographer. “I was shooting only when I felt that a moment was ours, and refused to look for specific events. I approached it from the beginning with a sense of complete freedom.”

Porpora recognizes herself in pensive stares and hinted smiles. She traces moments shared with people who passed away. She sees the timid, more reserved person she used to be when she was younger. Lina’s photographs, in dialogue with the books Porpora wrote about her activism, accompanied them along the years, creating an exchange that shaped both of their adult selves. “The leitmotif of our relationship was and remains uncertainty, feeling precarious, out of place in a world that we often do not feel is ours ”, writes Porpora.

© Lina Pallotta
© Lina Pallotta

Singer songwriter Kai Tempest, who contributed a poem to the book, echoes: 

“On a scale of Can’t-Bear-It to Pride I’m more proud than I was
but less proud than I’d like

of the beautiful thing 

that we make when we make it.”

Inscribing itself in the broader struggle for LGBTQI+ rights, Porpora’s personal story reveals how hard it must have been for her and others from her generation to reconcile an inner world filled with questions and nuances with the need to to put up a united front, have clear answers, push forward a fight that was, still is and shouldn’t have to be, political.

In a moment when there were no terms to define herself yet, when admitting contradiction, confusion, was already an act of disobedience to society’s norms, when the experimentation with hormonal treatments was still a risky and uncharted path, Porpora was able to acknowledge her perpetual state of transition, stating “I am ok with that. It is you, who are not”.

© Lina Pallotta
© Lina Pallotta

The story also forces a reflection on the present time, decades later, with conservative parties gaining traction in several European countries and abroad. “Porpora is worried by rising violence and aggressive behaviour”, states Lina Pallotta. “Last year she was threatened with a knife by a group of young men, while leaving a crowded Italian beach in the middle of the day”.

As part of her text at the end of the book, Porpora also remembers the closing line of a 1978 poem by African-American lesbian poet Audre Lorde: “We were never meant to survive”. Almost 50 years later, this book seems to add: “And here we are”.

The book Porpora is published by Nero Editions and available at the price of 32 Euro.

© Lina Pallotta

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