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Elizabeth Messick rehearses before her Thursday night performance at the Black Rabbit Rose, a magic club in Hollywood. (Martina Albertazzi)

A cocktail shaker and a glass used as magic props by Carisa Hendrix, 32, a.k.a. Lucy Darling, during a show at the Magic Castle Cabaret in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Martina Albertazzi)

Last fall, The Washington Post partnered with Visura in an open call for photo essays. The Post selected two winners and three honorable mentions out of hundreds of submissions. We are presenting one of the honorable-mention winners today here on In Sight: Los Angeles-based photographer Martina Albertazzi and her work, “Break a Thread.”

Not long ago, Albertazzi decided she wanted to do a project about performers and eventually settled on the subject of magicians because, she said, “magic felt the most appropriate in a city where everything seems to be a mirage.”

Albertazzi reached out to female magicians she found through Instagram and started documenting their onstage lives. To date, she has photographed 12 artists of varying backgrounds.

Some have performed abroad, as well as domestically; some are full-time magicians while others have separate careers; some are also actors. But, according to Albertazzi, they have one thing in common: “All of them are storytellers who are working hard to fight the stereotypes that still run deep in the world of magic.”

Albertazzi told In Sight more about her project:

“Magic used to be just for men. For many centuries, women who showed any interest in it were viewed as witches, which could lead to a quick death sentence. Men, on the other hand, could become very famous practicing sorcery, as it was one of the most appreciated forms of entertainment.

“During the ‘Golden Age of Magic’ (1880-1930), men ran the show while young, scantily clad women waited to be cut in half. It all served to give the male magician a sense of power and control on stage. But some women, mostly magician’s wives, were able to break into the male-dominated field and often received equal billing. Names like Mercedes Talma, Kittie Baldwin and Adelaide Herrmann became famous in Europe and in the U.S., as they mastered the most popular tricks and drew large crowds of enthusiasts to their shows.

“Women still only account for about 5 percent of memberships to magic societies today. At the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, the most prestigious magic club in the city, 90 percent of the members are men. But women are working hard to change that.

“Once a month, the Women Magicians Association meets to exchange secrets and offer feedback, encouraging everyone (even beginners) to practice in front of a small audience and discuss the status of the industry.”

You can see more of Albertazzi’s work on her website here.


Katrina Kroetch performs a levitation trick with Shayne Slauter as she practices ahead of her real magic show at the Houdini Estate in the Hollywood Hills. (Martina Albertazzi)

A little magic box that Liz Toonkel uses to store her favorite props. (Martina Albertazzi)

Cydney Kaplan, 45, talks to guests before her show at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. (Martina Albertazzi)

Kaplan practices her thread trick outside her apartment in West Hollywood. (Martina Albertazzi)

Simone Turkington, 42, rehearses before her show at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. (Martina Albertazzi)

An old magic book that belongs to Elizabeth Messick. A former boyfriend gave it to her as a present. (Martina Albertazzi)

Leroya Sanford, 17, performs a trick with magic ropes at Darby Park, in Inglewood. Leroya is a Junior Magician Member at the Academy of Magical Arts at the Magic Castle and performs regularly around the country. She has been studying magic since she was 7. Also a comedian, Leroya combines magic with poetry. (Martina Albertazzi)

A guest watches Carisa Hendrix and Kayla Drescher perform at the Magic Castle. (Martina Albertazzi)

Patricia Marquis, a.k.a. Patricia Magicia, practices a trick with Chinese linking rings in her apartment in Beverly Hills. (Martina Albertazzi)

Artemis the Owl wears a hat to celebrate the Fourth of July. Artemis guards the secret entrance of the Magic Castle in Hollywood. To be granted access, guests must stand in front of it and say, “Abracadabra.” (Martina Albertazzi)

Messick practices one of her favorite tricks in an alley in Los Angeles Chinatown. (Martina Albertazzi)

A guest watches a show at the Magic Castle. (Martina Albertazzi)

Kaplan sits for a portrait with her dog Midge. She performs regularly for people with Alzheimer's and dementia and often brings Midge with her. (Martina Albertazzi)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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