When you open photographer Umberto Nicoletti’s newest book, you’re greeted by a series of portraits that emanate hope, beauty, and resilience. However, the narratives accompanying these images paint a rather different picture. Titled ‘Asylum’, the book introduces us to members of the LGBTQ+ community who have escaped their homelands in search of more accepting societies. In their home countries, their identities subjected them to severe punishments, from public flogging to execution.
Umberto Nicoletti: Unseen Portraits of Courage
Nicoletti, a Milan-based artist, has defied the conventional portrayal of his subjects as victims, instead presenting them as heroic figures. His portfolio, inspired by his background in fashion, arts, and advertising photography, represents these individuals with glossy, captivating images that elicit empathy. He sees them as true heroes, fighting for their rights in a world that often rejects their identities.
To compile the subjects for his project, Nicoletti collaborated with five organizations committed to the cause of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers. These were located in Milan, London, Toronto, Washington, and New York. His empathetic approach stems from his own background; his mother was an immigrant who was exiled from Tripoli, Libya, by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
Shining a Light on the Dark Reality
Yet, this project was not without its challenges. Nicoletti found that many of his subjects were initially hesitant to reveal their faces due to shame or fear of reprisals in their home countries. Nevertheless, most of them eventually chose to show their faces, turning the project into a collaborative endeavor. The photographs, shot entirely in black and white, occasionally employ creative use of shadows, symbolizing the parts of their past lives shrouded in mystery.
Nestled between these powerful portraits are snippets of testimonials from the asylum seekers. Their accounts are drawn from the letters they wrote while applying for asylum, detailing the brutal circumstances they were escaping. These accounts provide a stark reminder of the realities many LGBTQ+ individuals face in countries where their identities are criminalized.
A Call for Change
The book, with its large-scale images, underscores the magnitude of the problem faced by LGBTQ+ individuals seeking asylum. As per a report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, 43% of UN-recognized states criminalize queer identities, with some even imposing the death penalty for same-sex acts. Nicoletti’s mission with this book is to bring this global crisis to the forefront of international conversations, urging all people to empathize with the plight of these courageous individuals.
‘Asylum’ will be released on 16 May, with proceeds benefiting LGBTQ+ organizations across various cities worldwide.