Edoardo Pasero wrote to us recently and shared his new project Doll Flesh. I was immediately taken by the depth and sincerity of the reportage, and the unique woman at the heart of the story. We’re excited to share this work with you alongside a few questions we had for Pasero.
Vittoria is a transsexual of German origins born forty-eight years ago in Brazil and now living in Milan, Italy. More than 20 years ago she went through about 300 injections of liquid silicone to shape her body into that of a woman; tragically, she suddenly discovered she was intolerant.
After so many years now of intoxication and cortisone treatments her body is consumed. She still works as a prostitute along a highway near Milan, but she never gets undressed with her clients because she doesn’t want them to be aware of her condition.
In her spare time she custom builds Barbie dolls. Her talent is really appreciated in the world of the “custom Barbie making”.
- Note: there are no captions except for the last image, which is a translation of this page of Vittoria’s diary.
How did you meet Vittoria? What inspired you to photograph her story?
Pasero: I knew her thanks to ALA, a nonprofit organization based in Milan. They work on subjects like drugs, prostitution, transsexualism and so on. I have a personal obsession with everything concerned with the body and it was immediately clear to me that I had to work with her. She has a really extreme case of silicone intoxication and when I heard her story I was astonished. I was completely fascinated by her hobby working with dolls; to me it is like she did the first, primal doll experiment on herself, and now she is replicating it doing new dolls. Once, she told me she wanted to be like the unicorn she tattooed on her back.
What, if anything, was she interested in communicating when she agreed to be part of your story?
Vittoria was in denial about her condition for a long time and just lately she reconciled with it. Just think to the fact that she works with the clothes on and that, according to her words, I’m the first man seeing her naked in ten years. So, to work with me was her way to say: “pay attention to what you do, silicone can be dangerous”. She never wanted to see the pictures, she’s ok with the project but it’s still too much for her to see her naked body in a picture.
Would you consider this project a collaboration with Vittoria? Does she help select the drawings or dolls you’ve included in this series? What is her reaction to these photographs and the way you’ve edited them together?
It was a collaboration in the sense that she let me to do what I wanted, everything except for the moments when she is with her clients. To let a photographer with his camera in to your life and in the place you live is the most collaborative act of all. I simply took pictures of her and her environment. Clearly I spent a lot of time with her, that’s for sure. I spent time with her without a camera too, doing things like going to the hospital, shopping, dinners etc. There is one picture in the sequence, a blurry one, where you can see two arms taking away old band-aids from her bottom, to put on the new ones. One arm is clearly Vittoria, the other one is my girlfriend, during that period they became friends, and we still are.
The selection was a pain, it took months. I love to edit and I think it is half of the work. Additionally I live in the same city where I have my agency (Prospekt) and I really live in the office. So it was a collaborative effort to make this edit, and I have to thank a lot all of the people there at Prospekt. But, by the other side, it was a sort of “controversial” process; it was like every person looking at it for the first time had a different idea than the one before and so on, much more than the other works I edited before. So I had to put a stop at one point.
Does this story fit in to any larger body of work you are working on?
It was originally intended as part of a bigger project to be done with the ALA organization about transgendered people in the city of Milan, but at the moment nothing is going on so I think it will stay as a work on it’s own. I’ve got no plans. I’d like to see it published somewhere as I’d like to expose this subject, but I understand it’s not simple.
Where do you come from? What is your background as a photographer?
I’ve done workshops with Lorenzo Castore, Antoine D’Agata and Anders Petersen, and except for that I’m self-taught. My father was a really good photographer in his youth and taught me how to use a camera and some darkroom techniques but I learned looking at books of photographers I liked. My parents have both a degree in philosophy and I studied philosophy too; photography became a practical way to apply it in life.
When I was going back through your project I saw one particular image – the picture of Vittoria with an umbrella by the side of the road – which immediately reminded me of Mishka Henner’s project No Man’s Land.
It caused a stir amongst photographers and critics I know, about evenly split on positive or negative, with some of the debate focused on the use of Street View and others on his treatment of the subject itself. I think your project could be considered a much more personal and journalistic response to the scenes and individuals involved in Henner’s distant photographs. Do you have any thoughts about that project or how your work relates?
About “No Man’s Land”, it is interesting how the 70% of the work is done with images “taken” in Italy, hah. Anyway, I have nothing against this kind of work, but I think it would be correct to present it as a research work based on archive material. It’s a conceptual work. This kind of approach is really used in contemporary art. For example, my friend Diego Marcon works mainly in this way. He takes family tape archives and he re-organizes it in to something new: Marcon’s SPOOL project.
So, to be clear, I don’t think Mishka Henner’s work is photography, it is something else, really interesting and worth a look but not photography, it’s 90% project idea and 10% framing on a computer screen using someone else pictures.
To me photography still requires just one simple condition, to be present at the moment of the click.
What has the response been to Doll Flesh, have you been able to publish this project?
Heh, I started to share it in October 2011 and here on dvafoto is the first publication. I think it’s a difficult project to place, reactions vary a lot from one person to another and I understand perfectly that some pictures are a bit harsh. Anyway, it was a great experience for me and that’s what matters.