Contemporary history has identified three big Italian migration movements to Switzerland: the big diaspora of the end of the 19th century, the period between the First and the Second World Wars and the diaspora movement from the end of the Second World War until the 1970s. After the Schwarzenbach initiatives and the oil crisis of the 1970s, Italian migration to Switzerland has decreased. However, with the beginning of the 2007 – 2008 global economic crisis, Italy has witnessed a large new diaspora movement to the traditional countries of migration. Academic studies have found that the most diffused narrative on the brain drain phenomenon is oversimplistic and needs to be re-examined and updated; notably that this diaspora in the age of globalization has new and complex layers.
The aim of this research is to re-think photographic portrayals of the cultural identity of Italian migrants of the 21st century in the area between Lausanne and Geneva in Switzerland (arc lémanique). The work reflects on issues related to the formation of cultural identity formation of the migrant as a continuing experience and to the sense of belonging to a space which becomes a known place after years of residency. How can an image capture a complex, ineffable, and unrepresentable notion of modern Italian cultural identity? Furthermore, how can an image represent the cultural identity of a group of people whose lives have been changed by the experience of physically migrating to a terra incognita?
Research conducted in the archives of Swiss-French illustrated magazines (L’Illustré and L’Hebdo) and other online publications has highlighted distinctive photographic representations of Italian migrants in Switzerland from the 1960s-1970s to the period between 2006 and 2019. The analysis of pictures of Italian migrants made it possible to understand on a larger scale how the public imagination is shaped, how it impacts on the politics of the ‘other’ and how society reacts to the phenomena of migration. This process has supported and influenced the development of the photographic practice of this research in its attempt to render visible the complex notion of this new migratory identity.