Venice is an ancient city – in every sense of the word; and one of its shortcomings is its intransigent approach to gender roles. For example, women have little chance of becoming gondoliers. Photographer Clara Vannucci shares the story of Edoardo, who has undergone gender surgery to become a man, making him able to fulfil his dream of following in his father’s footsteps, and becoming a gondolier.
How did you meet Edoardo and what made you want to tell his story?
A dear friend of mine, Eleonora Magnelli, first told me about Edoardo one evening at dinner. She is his speech therapist and is helping him transition his voice from feminine to masculine. I felt that this was a story that needed to be told, and I wanted to meet Edoardo right away. Once I met him I realized there was so much to say and that the story could become bigger. I talked about it with The New York Times journalist Guy Trebay, whom I’ve been working with for years, and he was immediately excited by the subject. So we decided to work on it side by side. I honestly could not have imagined anyone better to write such a story that I personally really cared about.
How did Edoardo react when you first talked with him about your idea of portraying him?
After Eleonora mentioned my idea to Edoardo, we had a phone conversation. He was very excited about starting working on a project together, and he invited me to visit him in Venice. A few days after our conversation, I was at his place. He gave me full access to his life and his intimacy, and he allowed me to get into his world and photograph it. Suddenly I knew I found a friend and I will be forever grateful to Edoardo and his girlfriend Claudia for this.
How long did you accompany Edoardo photographically and what did you focus on most of all?
I first started this story in May 2021, and I would say that it is still ongoing. I’ve seen Edoardo in many different situations and cities all around Italy. From Venice to Florence to Bologna, documenting his mastectomy, his journey, his challenges. Visually speaking, I focused primarily on him – his body, his changes. In a more general manner, I also looked at his life, the places he lives, the people he loves.
Did you have a specific photographic/technical approach?
My approach is usually pretty natural. Especially at the beginning, when I first met him, I felt more like an observer. After a while, I also enjoy experimenting with new lighting (like red and flash lights); for my personal growth in portraiture as well. Edoardo and Claudia are amazing subjects to photograph and they were very natural in front of the lens. I didn’t need to direct them or anything, so I could stick more to a reportage style.
You have worked with the Q and the SL system. In what way did these cameras help to accomplish your goals?
Yes, I shot most of the project with the Q, which was really easy to carry around the city without being too intrusive. It’s a very light camera, easy to carry, that people don’t notice too much: that’s why I believe people are so comfortable in front of it. Also, in very bad light conditions, the Q was just perfect. The SL, on the other hand, was very helpful in a few specific situations: like, for example, in the ER room while Edoardo was having the mastectomy, it allowed me to capture the details, without getting too close. In some situations, the SL was truly important: even if it’s heavier to carry around, it is fast and very reliable.
Born Twice is a very touching story with an important message. Would you say that photography in general is political?
It’s important to tell real stories like this, about real people, without fiction or compromises. We, as photojournalists, have this power and honour, and it would be a real pity to waste it. Born Twice is a story of love, resistance and resilience in Italy, which is unfortunately still anchored in the past regarding discrimination and transgender rights; especially now with the new right wing government in charge. This is a story, as Edoardo himself explains, where he tells how hard it can be to be alone with himself, to look at himself, to mirror himself in the silence and, finally, to listen to himself; and then have a dialogue with parents, friends and partners.
What role does this project play for you personally?
I am a mother of a baby girl now; and listening to Edoardo and his mother talk about their experience, their story, has really impressed me. I believe it’s a project that concerns me very closely: it speaks of challenges and changes, of being mothers and children, of dealing with a society that does not always respect our needs. I think it affects all of us in one way or another.
Clara Vannucci (born 1985) is an Italian documentary photographer represented by Daria Bonera DB for corporate and advertising work. She also freelances for several Italian and international magazines and newspapers, where she mostly covers fashion, editorial and travel assignments. At one time she taught photography to the inmates at the Opera maximum security prison and is now a Photography Professor at IED (European Design Institute). She is a New York Times contributor and her work has been published by Time magazine, New York magazine, Vogue, and Vanity Fair, among others. Find out more about her photography on her website and Instagram page.