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Photography was a beautiful accident for Tigre Escobar. Studying Art History, he discovered colour for the first time – in a book by photographer William Eggleston – and, in that moment, the artist started exploring photography through colour. Something that he keeps doing in Proud Humans, a project exploring Latin America’s transgender community from an intimate, personal approach.

Although at first he was in fashion photography, Tigre Escobar became interested in documenting transgender people from Latin America as well as their experiences and stories fascinated by the aesthetic – “regardless of their socio-economical condition” – and the sense of storytelling of this community, and because he was drawn to this ultimate form of rebellion – daring to be whoever you want. Portraying all of his subjects in their personal spaces, he creates their story in their environment, as he explains, and thus is able to capture them in a more meaningful and honest way. We interview the photographer to know how he switched fashion photography for his personal project, what’s he doing to cope with quarantine, and his quest for beauty.

You’re documenting the transgender community of Latin America (more specifically, Mexico and Colombia, New York City) through your lens. But first of all, who is Tigre Escobar and how did you get interested in photography?
Photography to me was all a beautiful accident. I went to school to study Art History, and during that time of discovery, I had to take a colour photography class as one of my general requirements. I discovered colour for the first time when I saw a book by William Eggleston, and as many others before, I fell compelled by the beauty of his work. I had no idea that images could be so eloquent, I had no idea colour could be seen like that, I had no idea you could find beauty in everything if there is a vision behind. I started exploring photography through colour for the years to come.
You were developing your work as a fashion photographer until you started using photography to explore the transgender community in a more personal, even documentary-style way. What’s the reason for this change? Do you think you’ll go back to fashion photography, or do you prefer to explore other possibilities and genres?
After years of exploring my photography through fashion, I think now I understand where my images come from, I recognize the pattern of my way of seeing, my aesthetic voice is now blooming. Now that I have my own ‘language,’ I have started looking for stories to tell, ideas that could be empowered by images. I hope fashion could continue nourishing this exploration and allowing me to approach new ideas/stories time after time.
With this new series, you are exploring a new generation within the LGBT+ community, more specifically the transformative power and aesthetic of the transgender community. How did you get interested in this topic?
I was introduced by a friend to the ‘houses of voguing’ in Bogota, Colombia. I was so mesmerized by their aesthetic… Regardless of their socio-economical condition, they were exploring their identity with a sense of fashion and storytelling that was absolutely fascinating to me. Understanding the social conditions of the place I come from, I decided to start exploring the personas that are created in these houses of dance and sisterhood.

Why do you think it’s important to photograph it?
I am interested in empowering these humans and their incredible vision of their selves, it is important to me to document this evolution of humanity led by their capacity of transformation.
But you are particularly interested in how these new movements are represented in Latin America. Do you think there’s much difference between how these movements are lived in Latin America and the rest of the world? Are there any specific challenges that the transgender people from America Latina have to face compared to other places?
I am sure there are different ways of perceiving these new movements in different parts of the world, all with their own experiences and liberation battles to fight. I also believe there is a common sentiment that is shared throughout cultures by this way of expressing your identity. People can influence each other continents away by creating a persona that inspires others elsewhere.
I am pursuing this subject as Latinos everywhere have mixed their personal heritage with the influence of new generations of drags, which have opened up a wide spectrum of possibilities for gender and identity.
Latin America is a big continent, and each country has their own laws: from Uruguay protecting trans people or Colombia allowing same-sex marriage, to others that don’t have specific laws to end discrimination against the LGBT+ community. How is your view on the queer community in Latin America, with its differences and similarities?
It is difficult to make a clear assessment of Latin America as a whole in regards to how these LGBT+ communities are evolving within their own social mandates. What I think is important to acknowledge is that regardless of any particular circumstances, these phenomena are happening all over across cultures. In my own experience, an integral part of my identity is where I come from, my accent, my race, the aesthetic scenario of where I grew up. The Latin American folklore aspect of this project is something that allows me to navigate a shared identity with people from all over the continent.

“These ‘proud humans’ are all empowered by their capacity to represent themselves as whoever they want to be. This is the ultimate expression of rebellion and true identity in our societies.”
Do you believe that the younger generations, in addition to other external factors, are contributing to a change of mindset at large in the area/continent?
Without a doubt the upcoming generations have a new vision and a sense of themselves sexually and aesthetically. Not only with the new range of sexual orientations but also through the use of technology and how they can easily identify themselves with a new identity icon on social media or simply by using filters that allow them to envision themselves differently from just men and women. This also applies to Latin America and the constant push of the status quo that has dominated our identity as ‘macho man’ countries.
You decided to portray a few people in their houses as one of the characters they become at night. How was the entire process behind the photoshoots? From choosing the individuals to building a trusting relationship with them to the final result.
I have tried to keep a constant narrative in how these sessions happen. All the subjects are shot in their personal spaces, I create their story in their own environment. I think being able to share something so personal helps us better contextualize who they are and allows me to get closer to them and say as much as possible about who they are.
I try to look for individuals that have a particular sense of themselves; it’s not just men that want to be women, it’s really about individuals that represent the future of drag, the future of how we see ourselves as humans. My girlfriend has played an important role as she helps me produce and approach everyone with a feminine eloquence that quickly smooths everything down when connecting.
The protagonists of your images are shown as strong people who stand up for their difference, yet is that something they have always been able to do? Has any of them told you touching stories about their lives, past experiences, how they’re overcoming fear, etc.?
Absolutely, one of the things I find most fascinating of creating these images is the capacity to connect with other humans on the most personal level. It has been part of the creative process to share a private moment with the people I photograph, there is an innate conversation about their identity, who they are, where do they come from, how they are perceived in their neighbourhood, how they created their alternative identities…
I find this kind of self-expression one of the bravest, they all have to break stereotypes and preconceptions of who we should be and what is expected of us physically, emotionally and sexually. These ‘proud humans’ are all empowered by their capacity to represent themselves as whoever they want to be. This is the ultimate expression of rebellion and true identity in our societies.

Despite you’re exploring this topic through documentary, you have preserved your understanding of colour and aesthetics from fashion. How have you managed to translate some characteristics of fashion photography to these images?
I am interested in reconciling this idea of documentary and fashion photography. I believe we don’t need to use formal documentary narratives to tell stories. There has been a conscious decision to bring important elements of my work in fashion to help me construct the imagery behind this project. I want to tell their story from my personal way of understanding colour, fashion and storytelling. I decided that there were essential aspects of my work to translate into this type of story, I could use the visual style of fashion because it empowers their own narrative, it helps us all connect in a dimension we share together, aesthetics.
Besides the subjects and the topic, how else do you think your current work is different from what you were doing before? Do you think this new approach has made you evolve or grow on an artistic or even personal level?
This project has become a leading force in my creative process, it has opened the spectrum of what I can do with my photography and the way I can impact new people and interests that are ever more relevant for my work. Proud Humans has brought me closer to my craftsmanship as a photographer, I feel a stronger capacity to create cultural bridges to represent my aspiration to talk about our contemporaneity. Therefore, my work is definitely different from what it was before, not only because of a change in my aesthetic but also because of a change in my intention.
At this point, in what direction do you want to continue? Keep exploring the transgender community, find a new topic but still explore it from a documentary point of view, maybe going back to fashion…?
This new imagery is now an engine of my photography work, I definitely want to continue working on this project with this wonderful community; there are so many amazing identities to explore yet. I do have other projects on the works and they still have this creative dynamic where the subject is documentary, but the storytelling is not.
And last but not least, any tip to stay motivated and keep creating?
Yes, during this time of isolation, for the first time I have had the interest of creating self-portraits, something I had never explored before. I thought since all the exterior stimuli have vanished, it is a great time for us to look elsewhere, to look to ourselves as a subject.
I created with my friends a platform to invite and share self-portraits of people from our community and really anyone interested in using this time to create a testament of who we are during this unique time. I think we were different people when we got into this and the person that we have created during this time of isolation is worth documenting for the future. This has kept me creating, stay creative in isolation… @hello_isolation.

Words
Claudia Luque

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