Overture

Guilherme da Silva’s new zine provides a vision of utopia and safe space for the LGBTQ community  

In 2019, when Guilherme da Silva took a picture of his friend in Venice, he knew instantaneously that he needed to build a wider series. Perhaps it was the aftermath of being broken up with by his boyfriend – enduring a somewhat sensitive outlook on the world – or maybe it was more of an inherent drive hidden deep inside, that only needed a little nudge (or picture) to be let out. Either way, it was this very moment that sparked the idea to produce what would later become Overture, a zine which encapsulates Guilherme’s deep truths both as an individual and as a photographer: to support and provide a safe space for the LGBTQ community.

Nodding to the concept of Arcadia – a vision of utopia – and inspired by the work of Thomas Eakins, Guilherme has collated an intimate documentation of queerness in Brazil. As a country that’s less than accepting of the LGBTQ community, Guilherme turned towards photography as a way of understanding his own identity and experiences; he urges those who see themselves in his pictures, and those observing this works, to do the same. It’s not been an easy ride for the photographer, having experienced LGBTQ-phobic attitudes in the industry which sparked a bout of depression. But having self-published his own zine, Guilherme is taking matters into his own hands and hopes to continue building on this empowering body of work. In fact, it’s in the zine’s name Overture, which alludes to the opening of an opera. This edition is an introduction to a longer body of work in the future. I chat to Guilherme to find out more below. 

Dries at the park, 2021

What’s your ethos as a photographer, and what stories excite you?

I think it’s diversity to say the least. When it comes to my work, everything is so deep inside me that sometimes I can’t explain in words. But what has been driving me to create since the beginning is the people that I’ve met throughout the years; the connection I created with them. Part of what I’ve been doing lately in my work (and what I did with the zine) is creating this sort of tribe of young people who live in this utopian land away from the corruptions of society. And this is not just in the pictures; we ended up creating a community where everyone supports each other. What excites me about being a photographer is what comes after the photography.

Ayrton and Matheus at the park, 2021

What inspired you to make this zine?

Well, when I’m not doing my personal projects, I work as a very commercial fashion photographer in Brazil. What inspired me to start the zine was the frustration I had with people who wanted to shape the way I was supposed to be photographing – not just the technique, but also who I was photographing. I heard so many LGBTQ-phobic speeches during meetings and work that sometimes I felt like I was not welcomed, that I was there just to press a button. I ended up with anxiety and depression and, to pull me out of that dark place, I knew I had to find a place to be safe. During the process, the pandemic hit and I had to postpone the beginning of the project. The situation in Brazil has been awful because of the government and I knew this was another reason why I should start this project. The zine is about this group of queer people that I wanted to portray in this place that nobody knows where it is but everyone wants to go there. It’s Arcadia, it’s a scape. 

Heart-shaped tongue, 2021

Who are we meeting in the zine, where are we visiting, what stories are we hearing?

All of my personal work feels like a self-portrait to me, so the zine is pretty much about the feeling I was talking about in the answer above. We are meeting this group of queer people who lives in this utopian land, like the concept of Arcadia. I was very inspired by the ‘Arcadian’ paintings of Thomas Eakins, the political view behind the work of Justine Kurland in her book Girl Pictures, and also the works of Nan Goldin and David Armstrong. 

Tell me more about the people you’re photographing in your zine, and how you strive to represent them? 

I think everything happens so effortlessly. Most of them I meet online first and then we meet to take the pictures, most of the time with their own clothes, sometimes I use some of mine. It’s so simple and beautiful.

What does photography mean to you, what’s its purpose?

Photography for me is my joy, it’s what allows me to understand more about the world and more about who I am. It’s what makes me feel sane.

Kenzo at the park, 2022

What can your audience learn from this zine?

They can learn how important it is to create communities when you are LGBTQ+, where you can meet people and talk about your experiences. It’s important to have this safe place where there’s no judgement and you learn more about who you are. We spend so much of our lives trying to hide ourselves when we were kids that when we are adults we have to discover our true selves. Being inserted into a community that protects you can help a lot.

What’s next for you?

The title of zine means this one is just the first, I’m already working on my next publication and I definitely want to work more collectively with stylists, make-up artists and creative directors who are open to accept my view. 

Leo at the park, 2021

Lucas and Leo kissing at the monument, 2021

Pedro at the park, 2022

Transbrasil

Rafael Medina documents queer trans life in Rio through his intimate photography 

After four years away from his hometown of Rio de Janeiro, Rafael Medina finally returned from Berlin in November last year. Upon doing so, he noticed how many of those in his friendship circle have started to open up about being transgender. As such, Rafael decided to embark on a photographic project documenting his five close friends – Naomi, Ellie, Caterina, Galba and Williane – as they go about their daily life in the city. Far from your typical foray into life as a queer trans woman living in Rio de Janeiro, the series, entitled Transbrasil, is intimate and nostalgic; it’s a touching window into the relationship, closeness and acceptance between friends. A time capsule of sorts, the project also takes a vital stance against homophobia, censorship and violence that’s continues to be inflicted on the trans community today.

There’s much to be unearthed throughout Rafael’s empowering imagery, and the work has been exhibited as part of an exhibition programme run by queerANarchive, which recently closed Club Kocka Gallery in Split, Croatia. His other works, in equal measure, have had similar impact; Skin Deep, for example, is a visual record of sexuality and the body of gay men above the age of 60. And back in Brazil, he was also the founder and creative director of the online magazine and sex party FLSH. Here, Rafael talks me through his reasons for starting work on Transbrasil and what his hopes are for the future.

What first drew you towards photography?

I’ve been interested in photography since the beginning of the 2000s. It was a naive start. At that time, the first digital cameras were released and I bought a simple Kodak. I ended up getting obsessed with it, as I used to bring the camera every time I went clubbing. I had just come out of the closet. It was the beginning of my young adult gay life. I was fascinated by the characters and the aesthetic I saw in the clubs. I guess that’s when I started to get interested in photography. 

What inspires you?

What inspires me… I think I get inspired whenever I have a problem. Something that personally bothers me or somehow calls my attention. An issue I want to understand or to dig deeper into. It can be a feeling or some idea that I want to share visually through photography.

When and why did you start work on this project, what stories are you hoping to share?

Transbrasil started with my will to portray the actual state of things in the Rio de Janeiro’s queer life through my personal relationships. Last November, I had the chance to visit my country for the first time after four years since I’ve been away. During those four years, something came to my attention. There was an expressive amount of people, from my circle of friends and acquaintances, who used to present themselves as cis men and, now, are opening up about their transgenderness. So I thought it would be an interesting approach and a good way to define a new moment in the queer life in town, if I photographed some of those people.

Can you tell me more about your subjects – your friends – and what they’re like? Why did you decide to photograph them, and how did you want to portray them?

Well… what should I say? My friends are amazing! Catarina, Ellie, Galba, Naomi and Williane all have bold personalities and I admire them for that. But it’s also interesting that each one of them has a unique path on how they come to perform their gender.

The choice of portraying my own personal circle of affections, instead of already known characters, has to do with the visual point of view I want to offer as a photographer. I understand that I have a privileged and intimate point of view over my friends, that I will hardly ever have with people I’m not close with. It’s about this feeling of being comfortable around them. In my work in general I’m interested in showing this inside subjective point of view of situations.

The style of the series gives off a textural and almost archaic feel to the imagery. What are your reasons for shooting this way? Tell me more about your aesthetic decisions.

Style-wise, I’ve been working with analogue photography since 2016. I’m interested in the materiality of the final result and how the grain plays a role in the image. And also the experimental possibilities that analogue can give me. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with multiple exposures; I’m interested in how an image can contain several layers of time, and also how to give space for unexpected new images to appear within those layers.

This series represents a very emotional moment for me. Coming back to Brazil brought back a lot of memories from the past, not only from my relationship with those five friends, but also my general past life- m y childhood and young memories. I wanted to imprint that general nostalgic feeling I had, of memories related to affections. Therefore, during the exhibition, I had part of the photos shown on two vintage photo albums, in order to connect with the viewer’s own nostalgia and affections. 

Are you hopeful about the representation and acceptance of trans people, particularly in Brazil? And in what ways can art and photography help?

As we Brazilians used to say, “Brazil is not for beginners”. That joke is, indeed, grounded in some truth. You have to understand that Brazil is a place full of contradictions. We have an extremely violent history. We were the last country in the world to end with slavery. We are still the country with the highest rates of trans people killed every year in the world. There is a big unhealed wound in our society towards Black people. So, of course, trans Black women are a group that is very fragile in this system. Especially now with a president and his supporters who are openly transphobic, homophobic and racist, who only does not do anything to support minorities, but do an active effort to attack the few progresses we have achieved over the past decade. 

Nevertheless, I felt that the Black and queer community are more organised than ever before, and they end up managing to set the discussion on society. There is definitely more visibility towards those subjects. Nowadays, you can see in a women’s TV show a Black trans artist, like Linn da Quebrada, or a performance of a drag singer, like Gloria Groove, on a Sunday variety TV show. But, the everyday reality of queer, and specially trans people in the Brazil, is still very tough. It’s harder for them to find jobs, to have opportunities and to be respected in society’s everyday life.

How do you hope your audience will respond to your work?

Well, there is no other way to answer this question as I hope they respond very well! But seriously, I know that I’m not changing the world with one photography series and I also understand that in this specific matter of transgender issues, it’s our fellow trans people who have to take the lead on the discussion and how they want to be perceived. I just wish that the audience will understand we should not only have representation of trans and queer people but also that they are able to be part of the everyday life and that includes having more opportunities. How many of us cis people have close friends that are trans? How many of us have trans people as work colleagues? We, as allies, should be thinking about it! 

What’s next for you?

I just had a solo show with Transbrasil in Split last August. That was an invitation by the Queer Anarchive, a Croatian LGBTQIA+ institution. My plan now is to bring the exhibition to other places. I want to show it here in Berlin and also in other cities in Europe. And hopefully, if I’m lucky enough, I will also manage to bring it to Brazil.

I’m also planning to edit a photo book about my experience visiting my country. Transbrasil will be a chapter of what is going to be a bigger project centred on this feeling of ‘vertigo’.  

All photography courtesy of Rafael Medina