A Jew fleeing racial laws, Carmi abandoned a promising career as a pianist to join the social struggles. In the 1960s she started her career as a photographer; in 1965 she began her investigation into the world of transvestites in Genoa. It is a groundbreaking body of work. These transvestites were her friends, her investigation is free of judgement and emotionally involved.
“I never looked for the subjects to photograph, they came to me,” she declared.
Back then, nobody wanted to publish this work. It was finally printed by Sergio Donnabella, a gentleman who was not a publisher but had the courage of a neophyte. A few thousand copies were printed at his own expense. It would seem like a happy ending. But it wasn’t.
No bookseller wanted to have it on display. It was too scandalous, despite the rebellious years and the sexual liberation. ‘I Travestiti’ had to be hidden. What then? Barbara Alberti, journalist and writer, a good friend of Lisetta’s, retrieved the copies and, little by little, took them home. Her house was full of copies of this book: they became ‘bed bases, tables, bookcases, walls, sofas and chairs that changed shape every day depending on how many we gave to friends’ Alberti recalls. This is how she preserved and circulated them.
Lisetta Carmi (1924-2022) had a long and amazing life. A recent biography written by Giovanna Calvenzi bears the title ‘The five lives of Lisetta Carmi’. Carmi quit photography to become the founder of an ashram in Southern Italy, where she spent the last years of her life.
The book was never republished.