Shhh: Southern high hidden histories
Tonio Martella was born in 2006 in southern Italy, in the province of Lecce. In 2018 they start using photography to know more about theirself. Their photographic research focuses on identity; their goal is to deconstruct through photography the structures between space, time and identity in order to establish a continuous introspective dialogue.
Tonio, you are a very young and self-taught author. Can you tell us how you came upon photography?
I came upon photography by chance; in 2018 I was on vacation and out of curiosity I decided to buy an analog camera, from then on I began to investigate the photographic device more and more to the point I used it to listen to myself. Photography allowed me to leave the boredom of my country behind and to begin to understand it, seeing its beauty but also its infinite contradictions.
In your əkwɛrɪəm series you address your relationship with the body and binarism. Could you tell us about this series?
The name əkwɛrɪəm recalls water and the term queer, referring to the need for visibility of the LGBTQAI + community and for me it’s an attempt to be the spokesperson for a narrative with the Salento environment as background. The project collects 2 years of very important work for me because in this period I had the opportunity to experience the awareness of being a transgender person, the relationship with my body and the belonging to a community. The representation of my body seems to dissolve in the narrative to indicate the act of recognizing oneself in other people’s photographed bodies and belonging to a community and its spaces. In the sequence, pages of a diary one after the other, empty spaces, in which I was looking for myself and others, to highlight the suffering derived from the experience of not being able to find references. I am happy that əkwɛrɪəm has found space between the pages of a zine. This project is the premise for continuing to document the LGBTQIA + community reality here in Salento.
Apart from yourself who are the people you photograph? What worlds do they represent?
The subjects I have portrayed so far are those who have left me something, I think that photographing someone is in some way a gesture of gratitude and sharing and that from my point of view requires vulnerability on both sides. I remember the feeling I had when I took the portraits for əkwɛrɪəm, it was the first time I was taking portraits of queer performers and it was wonderful to be able to see the light of the lightbulbs touch their faces and their bodies in which, in somehow, I identified myself too.
In your photos there is a lot of suspension, beauty but also a subtle suffering. What does photography represent for you at the moment?
For me photography is a very powerful mean of knowledge, it allows me to cling to life, to always tell new stories, to make my pain resonate in very bright rooms.
Your gaze struck me very much for its maturity and power. Who and what inspires you?
I am inspired by everything around me: from the sound of the wind in my ears to the silence of flowers that melt the concrete. From a purely artistic point of view, on the other hand, I let myself be inspired by the music of Florence and The Machine, by Lady Gaga, Grace Jones, by the words of Susan Sontag, by the work of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Letizia Battaglia, Duchamp, Man Ray, Tina Modotti , Luigi Ghirri, Lisetta Carmi, Elisa Moro, Marzio Emilio Villa, Eleonora Sabet, Paolo Gioli and many others
How did you learn to take photos and what do you mainly use?
I learned the basic technique by experimenting with my uncle’s analog reflex and analyzing a lot of my film rolls.
I mainly use analog cameras for my shots which I then develop and print myself in the darkroom in a way that’s almost therapeutic for me.
What do you hope will happen for you and for the area where you live in the next few years?
I hope that here in Apulia, in particular in the lower Salento, new spaces and narratives for minorities can be born, that the necessary conditions are met to ensure that people can have the courage to expose themselves and above all that the different territorial realities can talk to each other more.
Also, I hope that artists can find some reference points here without the need to go elsewhere.
As for me, I look forward to finding new ways to reinvent myself and to listen to others.
Do you believe that photography can change stereotypes and create spaces and new representations for the LGBTQIA + community?
Yes, I truly believe in the power of the photographic medium and I think that to deconstruct the mainstream narrative of the LGBTQAI + community there is a need to give voice to the community itself; too many times too many photographers have spectacularized, for example, the reality of transgender people, dehumanizing their experiences and misappropriating their image, avoiding the creation of a conscious dialogue that saw the same subjects portrayed as protagonists.