The small cluster of streets that form Hamburg’s Sternschanze district are lined with independent businesses and cultural venues, populated by immigrants from around the world. Being raised in such a dynamic setting gave a young Gianna Shamone her first glimpse into lives that defy social convention.
In her creative work, Gianna exemplifies the same entrepreneurial boldness that gives the Schanze its buzzing energy. She radiates self-composure despite our anxiety-ridden times and is confident, approachable, and deeply spiritual. In Berlin, Gianna’s first years were spent working in the music industry as an artist manager. After realising that she identified more with the artists than with the corporate machine promoting them, she turned to analog photography and began taking portraits of the artists she was working with. Just a year later, she made the leap from management into photography and videography full-time. She has since become the author of a volume of poetry, Finding Me, and she shows no sign of slowing down. We talked to Gianna about having the courage to try something new, staying vulnerable, and embracing uncertainty.
You didn’t start off in Berlin. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Hamburg, raised by a single mum with the help of her best friend. My mum used to be a hairdresser, and her best friend is as well. The mother of my mum’s best friend was also involved as. That is how I grew up: in a hair salon, raised by three independent women.
What was Hamburg like when you were growing up?
I was very lucky to be raised in an area of Hamburg called the Schanze. In the ‘90s, it was much more diverse than it is today. There were so many little shops that people opened up themselves without having a brand attached to them. That gave me an understanding that you can do whatever you want on your own; you don’t need to work for someone else and you don’t need to have the so-called security of working for someone else. When I was old enough to navigate the city outside of my little Schanze bubble, I realised that life away from that street is pretty different.
It must have been interesting to grow up surrounded by people from all over the world. What is your personal cultural background?
I have a lot of influences from different ethnicities. My father is Italian, my second mum is from Croatia, and her ex-husband is from Guinea Bissau but from the age of 10 grew up in Portugal. Those are all of the influences that I really felt when I was brought up, especially when it comes to food, traditions, and music.
When did you start spending time in Berlin? How did you end up here?
Around the age of 17 or 18, I started going to Berlin. I was very much into music and loved going to concerts. I had the feeling that Berlin was the Schanze on a bigger scale. It’s like a little European melting pot in terms of creativity. I got an internship in Berlin, and since then I’ve been here. I really fell in love with the city and its possibilities.
When I have a feeling that I can’t put into words, I know I have to sit down and start writing.
When did you start writing?
I was already writing back in elementary school – short stories about my favourite animals and stuff. Later, I was just trying to understand everything that I encountered in my daily life. It was a coping mechanism to help me understand myself, people, life in general. When I have a feeling that I can’t put into words, I know I have to sit down and start writing. That’s when I’m able to release it.
What motivated you to consider pursuing writing more seriously?
My second mum, my aunt, has been reading my horoscope since I was little. In the last five to seven years, she has been pushing me to write. At one point she said, “It’s in here, it’s in your chart. I can see it. You need to write.” Then I had a tarot card reading in March while I was in New York. She said, “You have to pursue this. Now is the time.” I already felt that I wanted to do it. I had already used some of my poems as captions for my Instagram posts. It was coming. The tarot card reading was the last push I needed.
Finding Me is entirely self-published, including the layout, graphic design, and illustrations. What is your editing process like?
When I came back to Berlin from New York, I gave myself four days to fight the jetlag. Then I started to type out all of my poems. I printed them, cut them out, and pushed them around on the floor to try to figure out how to make them into a book. I made illustrations out of my photography, so as soon as I decided which poems I wanted to use, I gave myself a break to sit down and draw all of the illustrations. Then I had the feeling I was detached enough from the poems to be able to read them with fresh eyes and a fresh mind.
How often do you write?
I think it comes in phases. Sometimes I can’t stop writing for a week – every day for several hours – and then I don’t write for two weeks. Now I’ve actually written a book, and it felt so right. I don’t want to make anybody, myself included, wait another three years for the second book. I’m trying to make a schedule and see how it works when I don’t have the urge to write but I sit myself down and see if it comes. It’s still a process.
It can be intimidating to step into a new field. How was it for you to claim your identity as a poet?
Having switched from the corporate management/business side to a more creative field that is considered to be less secure, I feel like I’ve done it, it worked, and it felt good. It also helped knowing that people like my poetry (through the response to captions on my Instagram posts), the tarot card sessions, and my aunt telling me over and over that this is what I should do.
I am the one who gets to decide how I want to build up my life again.
At what point did you start showing this body of work to people?
I didn’t really have a body of work. There was a very intense period of three years that started at the beginning of 2017 because of a break-up. I used to work and live with my ex-boyfriend, so a lot broke away after the break-up; it wasn’t just the relationship itself. I had to find a new place to stay. I had to find a new job because I used to be an artist manager and he was an artist who I was managing. I started my own healing journey through meditating, getting more into spirituality, and then I noticed that writing is a coping mechanism that I can use for understanding myself. When I felt like I was really over the break-up, I realised that the notebook that I had been writing in for three years was finished, so I just dove into it to see if it was actually a body of work.
Your poems are extremely personal. How comfortable are you with letting people read your intimate thoughts and feelings?
I’m an open book as a person. At some point I realised that the things that resonate most with me are personal: songs, other people’s poetry, stories… It might seem a little scary because it feels so personal, but I think that poetry is more about a feeling that someone is having and doesn’t necessarily state facts, so it can resonate with many people.
One of my favourite authors is Rupi Kaur. Her writing touched me so much. I think that if her poetry helps me and my poetry is helping me in my own process, it will probably help other people, too. So this idea would be more important to me if I ever came close to thinking, “Ah, I don’t want to share this.”
It seems like your shift into creative work is part of a larger personal transformation. What have you been learning throughout this process, especially with publishing your book this year?
I’m trying to trust my intuition. There is a point when you realise that this journey will never end. There’s so much more out there that I want to know and there’s no way to turn back. This year was kind of Mother Nature’s way of putting us in house arrest. “Stay home. You almost fucked everything up, so stay home and go within yourself!”
What are you focusing on professionally, personally, and creatively as you move forwards?
Everything happens for a reason, even though sometimes it might feel like, “Oh my god, I don’t know where I am right now and I don’t know what to do with my life.” I shifted towards the idea that I am the one who gets to decide how I want to build up my life again. This helped me gain ease and calmness within myself. I really feel good about myself and what I want to do. I also trust in my abilities. I used to be scared of doing something for myself because society gives people a fear of not being secure or not having a secure job. Life is showing us that nothing is sure.
Gianna’s book, Finding Me, is available now at her website at giannashamone.com, along with a curated selection of her photographic and videographic work.