Text by Manuel Beinat
All Images © Nicola Lo Calzo
Nicola Andrea Lo Calzo is a photographer, curator and teacher-Phd-researcher (Uni Paris-Cergy and Ensapc) born in Turin in 1979. He lives and works in Paris where he teaches on postcolonial and queer perspectives in photography at École nationale supérieure d’arts Paris-Cergy.
His photographic practice and research are attentive to questions surrounding identity, colonialism and political history.
Lo Calzo’s visual research is as important as it is necessary in a historical period in which, with all the difficulties involved, minorities are reclaiming the spaces that a white, masculine patriarchal world has wrested from them over the centuries. Photography is confirmed as a tool for critically rereading the past and giving visibility to those who have always been marginalized.
However, the issue of representation and representativeness in photography is a controversial topic: who has the right to represent whom? What clichés should be avoided in order not to lapse into an almost ethnographic or self-referential type of research of ethnic and gender minorities?
The Last of Lo Calzo’s works attempts to dissect these amongst other questions, the answers to which can only be found in a systemic and structural analysis of photography as a tool of imperialistic and colonialistic narratives. With his KAM project, the Italian author helps us to understand how the image can instead emancipate itself from this historical yoke, becoming an instrument of liberation and a witness of resistance.
The geographical distance that separates the images within KAM Project is enormous, but the thread that connects the histories, bodies, and cultures of countries miles apart is clearly visible. Lo Calzo meticulously reconstructs a map whose milestones and origins are historical and systemic, and deal with resistance to slavery. The Mediterranean and Atlantic trade, organized in a capillary and systematic way by the Western empires, left indelible traces. From a media point of view, in this case, the iconographic worlds of the former colonies have been constructed to the measure of whiteness, also thanks to photography. The “subaltern bodies” (as Lo Calzo calls them) have been objectified and turned into artifacts, but of little real value; their humanity disappears, and with it the control over their own existence.
Through Nicola’s iconographic research, the idea of representing minorities remains, but the predatory and ravenous instinct of those who want to appropriate stories, traditions and bodies of others completely disappears. It is through what Lo Calzo calls “a queer posture” and through a feminist and intersectional approach that the author typifies a key factor in building a visual narrative of the other: an awareness of one’s own position within today’s society, the so-called “positionality”.
The recognition of the power dynamics underlying the photographic act has allowed Lo Calzo to break away from the concept of the “body-object” and embrace an innovative, ethical one (the so-called “body-subject” – that plays a very specific role in history and place). In this way, the Paris-based author creates effective counter-narratives to eradicate the troublesome prejudices typical of minorities’ iconography (sexualization of the female body, objectification of the black and disabled body, etc.).
Photography is thus transformed from a tool of oppression into an instrument of emancipation. The relationship between photographer and subject is continuously deconstructed and reconstructed. It’s based on a constant negotiation of meanings, spaces and roles.
The focus on communities that have historically resisted slavery, the use of an archive of bodies (using the black, oppressed, queer body as a historical source), and the ever-present restitution of the photographic work to those who have indulged it, all of this contributes to the debunking of already known narratives and the creation of new ways of representation.
The images are always delicate, balanced, fair, and respectful. Empathy, mutual recognition, curiosity, and the desire to know each other emerge from the colors of KAM Project.
The author’s goal is thus to propose a feminist, queer, and micro-historical solution to decolonizing the gaze and the camera itself.
Lo Calzo repositions (historically and culturally) the subjects through an ongoing negotiation of relationships and responsibilities. As difficult as it is to break out of the Eurocentric frameworks that have become entrenched in photographic practice, the Paris-based artist succeeds in reframing visual narrative into an ethical, self-conscious, and participatory stance.
Works such as Lo Calzo’s KAM project help us to critically re-read the past and to realize that it is possible, or at least necessary, to narrate reality with new tools that reject the white-centric traditions.