Review by Gerhard Clausing •
The ‘Toilet Club Milano’ is an Italian night club that welcomes people of all sexual orientations. It has a special place in the LGBTQ world, and features performers that present themselves in drag. Valentina Neri has woven a fascinating narrative around these ‘drag queens,’ including many visual and verbal cues and stimuli, presented in a manner inspired by an interesting magazine published in the 1940s under fascist rule (Scena Illustrata). We are thus looking at a three-year study of special people in a special world extended to the public at large, both at the club and through this ambitious photographic project that we now share.
The world of drag personalities is marked by interesting costumes, makeup, and various forms of masquerade. Of course part of the fun is to cause a certain amount of outrage, and thus the makeup, masks, wigs, and costumes are marked by exaggeration. Neri is a keen observer of both the personal and public aspects of these drag personalities, and has a sensitive approach to their psychology, both out front and behind the scenes. Blurred motion, colors, light and darkness are effectively intermingled to depict both a world of exciting exuberance and the quiet moments of contemplation behind it. The author’s sense of humor adds a welcome light touch.
This photobook, as indicated by its title, is meant to be a kind of almanac; it is divided into 24 mini-chapters (the clock of life), as indicated in the last double page below. The individuals portrayed are introduced with a brief self-description. Sprinkled throughout the book are verbal stimuli that reference cultural phenomena, details from history, and other thoughts and quotes that allow us to arrive at more comprehensive personal interpretation. Since the images showing some outrageous outfits may seem strange when first viewed, this additional verbal material serves a very important purpose: it builds a bridge between the exuberant world of the club and the presumably more subdued world of most of the viewers. After all, behind the masks there is our shared human universe.
Valentina Neri’s photobook is an ingenious melding of documentation and art, with an exciting design and presentation, full of mystery and surprises. Highly recommended!
Valentina Neri – Almanacco Toilet Club
Photographer: Valentina Neri (born in Monza, lives in Milan, Italy)
Publisher: Cesura Publish, Milan, Italy; © 2018, published in October 2018
Essays: Prefaces by Rachele De Franco and Marco Valtorta
Prose and Quotes: Valentina Neri, Rachele De Franco, Frederico Manfredini, Sarah Neri, Luca Santese, Niccolò Umattino, Marco Valtorta. Translated by Irene Arabnia
Stiff illustrated cover; glued binding; 160 pages, unpaginated, with 150 images; color lithography; 15 x 21 cm (6 x 8.75 inches); Italian edition 300; English edition 200 (reviewed here); printed in Italy by Fontegrafica
Photobook Design: Valentina Neri