The Queer World of Relationships: In Conversation with Francesco Esposito

Francesco Esposito self-portrait, 2023, Courtesy of the artist.

By Irene Bernardi

The photos taken by Francesco Esposito tell more than meets the eye. They are visual poems that narrate what new generations are experiencing in an increasingly complex world. Through the lens, the Italian artist tells the delicate relational entanglements of a polyamorous couple that he follows step by step in their personal growth. 

Born in Naples in 1997, Francesco Esposito moved to Bologna where he started his artistic career. He attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna and received his BA in Graphic Arts and MA in Photography. Esposito’s works have been exhibited in major art events such as Open Tour and Art City promoted by the Academy of Fine Arts of Bologna, IBRIDA Festival of Multimedia Arts, and BASE Milano.

Irene Bernardi: In your early work, you expressed yourself through graphic signs and engraving, then later you switched to photography, using a completely different medium. Did you ever find a meeting point between the two?

Francesco Esposito: Absolutely. I have been taking photographs since childhood. Later, I started combining these two disciplines and making photogravures. My approach to etching was born from the desire to learn about a new medium of expression and the extreme similarity between these two techniques. Both mediums involve the use of external agents to create an image. In the case of etching, the agent is acid that etches the material, while in photography it is light that impresses a photosensitive surface.

IB: The themes you deal with in your photographs are relevant to today’s society, which tends to suffocate us more and more and homogenize us as a function of productivity: we need to be perfect and neither feel nor demonstrate our emotions. What drives you to confront these major issues characteristic of Generation Z?

FE: Being born between two generations has exposed me to changing ideals and perspectives on life. This [has] had a significant impact on my perception of the world and my artistic expression. Becoming aware of the major issues that have come up in our society at the level of mental health and sexuality, I decided to make them central themes in my poetry. I am talking and taking pictures about these issues to contribute more information and awareness for part of the public.

Understanding and acceptance of sexuality can have a direct impact on people’s mental health, while mental health can influence self-perception and one’s relationship with sexuality.

Worry, 2022, Courtesy of the artist.

IB: Looking at your portfolio, I was very impressed by the Worry series where you discuss when anxiety becomes pathological and the sufferer dissociates from reality, losing control of it.
What technique did you use to make these shots? How did you conclude that it was the best method to render that feeling of loss and dissociation?

FE: When I decided to start this project, I was going through a period in my life fully involved with this theme.
The choice of this technique came from the idea of “glow,” something that blinds you, distances you, and alienates you from reality. I wanted to reproduce these “glows” by using flash on smooth, reflective surfaces; however, the result did not satisfy me. However, I continued to think about the idea of reflection, something that we cannot eliminate, something that often attracts and obsesses us.

The solution came when I visited an Anish Kapoor exhibition in Venice: the Indian artist used distorting mirrors, which made me realize that the distortion effect could best represent my state of mind. So, I began taking photographs of my everyday life using the bottom of a bottle as a distorting filter.

Installation view, QueerPandèmia. Artistic contaminations of other kinds, 2023, Base Milano, Courtesy of Riccardo Ferranti

IB: Your latest project, People’s House, has been selected to be part of QueerPandèmia. Artistic contaminations of other kinds, an exhibition hosted at Base Milano as part of Milano Pride in July 2023. This show by ULTRAQUEER, a project of TWM Factory, aims to give space, voice, and representation back to the Queer community, centering the discourse on how it is perceived by the outside world. Reflections take place on queer identity and its relationships, going through tools, struggles, and new practices with which to invade spaces and gain a place in the world.

The People’s House series includes very complex and delicate shots that run through the lives and relationships of Enea and Luna, a polyamorous couple living in Bologna. How did this collaboration come about?

FE: After becoming interested in the topic of polyamory, having never had this kind of relational experience, I realized that I could only know more about this topic by getting to know people living in that kind of relationship. Conversing with some friends, I met Luna and Enea who gave me the possibility to collaborate with them, making me [closer to] this world.

IB: Photographs of their daily lives are accompanied by shots of natural elements that dialogue with forms and compositions that the bodies create. Flowers, stems, shoots, but also water and light, reflect the relationship of mutual love and trust that polyamory creates, as in the relationships between plants and natural elements.

Nature is wonderfully homosexual, non-monogamous and queer, which is the basis of Queer Ecology(1) theories. This scientific theory aims to unite queer theories and ecology to shift paradigms from binary, rigid, and heteronormative ways of understanding nature toward interdependence and fluidity. How does this theory relate to your shots?

People’s House, 2022, Courtesy of the artist.

 FE: These shots representing nature, aim at an analogy with polyamorous relationships. They don’t have a scientific basis, they are only metaphors for this. Often, we are wrongly pointed out to how the queer, polyamorous world is “against nature.” I tried to metaphorically counter this word with these shots.

“Today, polyamory is often misunderstood as strictly sexual behaviour or an open relationship. In reality, this kind of relationship implies much more: it implies bonding, involvement, freedom, and shared growth with multiple individuals, just as it happens spontaneously in nature.”

People’s House, 2022, Courtesy of the artist.

IB: I think this quote from your project is very important for today’s society to revisit the concept of a “natural relationship” by stepping out of heteronormative dynamics—the queerness of nature has long been ignored, suppressed, and dismissed to reflect society’s underlying prejudice against non-heterosexual and non-cisgender identities.

What reflections arise from this project of yours and your personal experiences?

FE: People’s House is not exclusively about polyamory, but also about freedom and spontaneity. Realizing this project, meeting people, and talking to the people who were part of it, I realized how there is no difference between a polyamorous relationship and a monogamous one. It is often considered a happy little bubble, but what makes it true and equal to monogamy are precisely the same issues that are faced.

Spending time with people who collaborated on the project, I also decided not to focus on the sexual and carnal dimension of this type of relationship more than necessary, but more on their sentimental reality, on the understanding that is normally created in any type of polyamorous or non- polyamorous relationship. This is precisely to depart the idea of polyamory from the concept of an “open” or exclusively sexual relationship, something which it is often confused with.

People’s House, 2022, Courtesy of the artist.

IB: Your photographs give a very strong and pleasing intimacy and delicacy. Is there a shot (or more than one) that is particularly meaningful to you?

FE: It’s hard to find one shot that I consider more meaningful than the others, precisely because from a personal point of view, each shot tells the story of the path that I took with the people I portrayed. Therefore, they all have great meaning for me, even the discarded images.

If I had to choose the most emblematic ones, I think they would be the one depicting hands crossing and the one in which two guys lying in bed, naked and conversing with each other. The first is because I think it is also the one that best summarizes the entire work, the second shot chosen I find is perfect for explaining how much intimacy and freedom there is between each individual member in that relational situation.

IB: As the last question, can you share some visual and non-visual artists who have accompanied you in your personal artistic process?

FE:In this last period I was very inspired by the shots of photographer Ute Klein (2).She is young but with her photography she creates bonds between people by intertwining their anonymous, unidentifiable bodies.
These bodies have souls, feelings and just like the bodies of Enea, Luna and their partners: intertwining they tell us the beauty and fragility not only of their story but of the stories of all.

You can find more of Francesco Esposito’s work on his Instagram @serafjno. You can find out more about Base Milano on their website and Instagram. Check out Ultraqueer on their website and Instagram.

You can find the QUEER PANDÈMIA book here.

1 Ingrid Bååth, Queer Ecology, Explained,

2 Ute Klein,

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