Two gay Northeastern Brazilians are defying the country’s fashion scene’s status quo by being themselves, pushing inclusivity to become ‘the new normal’, and creating stories with a symbolic background. Neither Marcos nor Kelvin studied photography; actually, one is a graphic designer and the other, a journalist. But together, they’ve become Mar+Vin, a visual creative couple that knows no boundaries when it comes to beauty, fashion, but also politics. We speak with them to get an insight into Brazil’s current fashion industry, how racism still plays a major role in every aspect of society and creativity, and how are they fighting the current ultra-conservative government.
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You’re both photographers coming together to form the duo Mar+Vin. What was life like before you met? What backgrounds do you come from?
Marcos: I had just graduated from graphic design and quit a job I did not like when I bought my first professional camera. Photography has always fascinated me and I've always had a huge interest in it, but surprisingly, in my precarious childhood, we never had a camera at home. All my childhood photos were taken by my aunt. And that was one of my only contacts with photography. However, at that time, I became very interested in many forms of art: drawing, painting, and sculpture. It really helped me to build a vision that I hardly knew would use a lot in my future career.
Kelvin: Before our meeting, I experienced a period of great detachment, which was intensified when we met. I had just given up on journalism and went to live in Salvador, the capital of the state where I was born, because I believed that what I had lived there was not what I wanted for my future. At that moment, I discovered that it was through photography that I wanted to make the world understand itself better. The background that I had studying Social Communication and Journalism was extremely important so I could talk in a much more direct and emphatic way of the things that I had as fundamental to initiate this change.
How did you happen to stumble upon each other? When and how was Mar+Vin born?
We met on the Internet. We were part of a scene of emerging photographers who were exploring their potential, discussing and sharing knowledge, but we never exchanged words until we discovered that we were in rooms next to each other on a cruise. Marcos was at work, photographing a campaign, and Kelvin participated as a finalist in a fashion film contest. From then on, we came closer and started to date two months later, when Kelvin moved to São Paulo (Brazil).
For some months, we worked individually, but we were always together and helping each other. At the end of the year, we received a challenge to do a signed work as a duo, and that's when it all started. Everything was very uncertain, but we let it happen naturally and we decided to face the challenge of working together integrally.
I imagine there must be a great understanding of one another if you are to collaborate while both being photographers. Which part does each of you play? How do you work as a duo?
From the first moment, when Mar+Vin was born, we decided that both would participate in the whole process, from the conception and the imagistic construction of everything until the completion of each work. And everything flowed in a very organic way. We had the intention to unify two visions in one and shoot with just one camera, so that there is no separation from where the work of one begins and the other ends; it is always a work in team. We complement each other, and we think this is mainly because we always work on the edge of a conjoint and never as individuals, uniting all the potential we have in each vision.
Favourite part of collaborating?
Two people think better than one. Two connected ones, even more. I believe that because we have different experiences, ideals and complementary opinions, we function as a puzzle where the pieces are only complete if they are not identical. This way, we end up creating something unique that we would not be able to reproduce as individuals. As much as there may be disagreements, we end up using this in our favour, getting to understand each other in the most diverse situations and perceiving the best way and solution with one purpose: always do the best that we can. Having someone you trust blindly to work with is almost a divine grace!
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Looking through some of your photos, it almost feels like we’re being brought back to colonial times. It seems to be more than fashion, there is certainly a story, if not a history, being told as well. What are you hoping to tell through your images?
Brazil itself plays a very important role in our image-building process. Our people, until recently, had huge omission on the culture of our country. The majority of Brazilians tends to give more credit for what comes from Europe and the United States than what is done. And what is done inspired in Brazil always has the same caricature speech and even foreign, as if everything always had to follow a pattern. We wanted to create new narratives, explore our culture in a deeper way and show how rich and diverse this country is with continental proportions.
In addition to breaking paradigms and reversing places that were once occupied by an exclusively white, elitist ruling class that still carries the scourges of slavery, which was abolished only 130 years ago. People still insist on sustaining a completely retrograde and racist discourse dressed as opinion. So we came out of nowhere with a totally contrary speech to all this colonizing bullshit, seeking to bring new stories and always create new narratives on top of this story told so many times.
We end up playing a very important social role for future generations, especially in terms of racial inclusion in fashion here. Creating new possibilities for those who never saw or felt represented anywhere. A gay couple of Northeastern Brazilians shooting for the biggest names in Brazilian fashion is really an event, and we are fully aware of this, especially when it comes to giving a breath of hope to people who are in places and realities where we once were.
One of your most recent series is titled Serra Pelada. The photos depict an almost alien-like saint in the landscapes of what I presume to be the historically famous disbanded gold mine Serra Pelada. Absolutely astounding! What thoughts went into this story? How do you come up with your narratives? 
We are flattered to know that you researched this, and it is incredible that you asked about it because I think we never really talked openly about what this editorial meant. Your interpretation is correct, we wanted to build a hostile environment where a goddess lives, who protects the Serra Pelada from the exploitation of miners after being so much abused and polluted by mercury, used in the gold-digging process.
We wanted to create a non-existing entity, so we decided to take aesthetic details from different gods of different religions and mix them in one. The real Serra Pelada is now owned by Vale, a multi-national mining company that is responsible for breaking the Brumadinho dam earlier this year in the state of Minas Gerais. This is the second environmental crime related to mining that happens in a short period of three years with immeasurable damages for both the population and the environment. It would be awesome if this protective goddess actually existed!
Being based in Europe, I don’t hear too much about the Brazilian fashion industry. How would you describe working in it?
It’s growing compared to the European industry. Brazil, in its majority, doesn’t benefit from its own culture to build its fashion image, which is really annoying, considering how rich our culture is here; endless folkloric movements, the richness of rhythms and endless raw material and textures. It's hard for you to hear about our fashion industry because what we export is what you've been doing for years. The people here are always looking for references that come from outside and very little interested in actually creating our own aesthetics. There are few who do this.
But on the other hand, it is important to emphasize that we are really growing. The industry, once extremely closed and segregated, is becoming a slightly more flexible environment for new professionals. The bittersweet power of the internet has helped spawn a number of promising makeup, styling, and photography names that are helping to build this legacy of authenticity.
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Creative freedom and diversity certainly are important parts of your work. I’m curious, is that something you experience being easy to achieve? In other words, do politics or social norms ever interfere with your work?
We live in a country where more than fifty-four per cent of the population is black; having more blacks in the media should never be a problem. But the first black woman to host the main television news of the country only got to host it a few months ago. The subaltern roles in the famous ‘novelas’ (soap operas) that the whole country stops to watch still are in huge majority portrayed by black people. More than a year ago, Marielle Franco, an activist who fought against minority injustices and within the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, was murdered, and we only recently got to actually know who the killer was.
Some months ago, a young black man was suffocated to death by the security of a big supermarket company. A black man, father, and musician was killed with eighty gunshots by the army and it all was justified as a ‘mistake’; we’re talking about eighty damn gunshots at a car with a woman and a child inside, and it was just a ‘mistake’. Apparently, a mistake that we’re all conditioned to. It’s still very difficult to have an entirely black casting, I think that answers a lot. Quoting Baco Exu do Blues, a national rapper, "The irony of the majority becoming the minority.”
It is tragic, indeed. But you said that, at least in the fashion industry, things are starting to open up little by little.
Although the country still has a lot to evolve regarding issues like racism, we’ve been having some improvements regarding fashion. Today, it’s much more common to see black people appearing in important campaigns compared to three years ago, when we arrived at the market. Inclusion is gradually happening, and even though much of it is being forced, it will end up happening naturally at one time or another – we hope. We still need more black people behind the scenes, creating content, in leading roles. Perhaps only this way, we begin to spread a national identity of fashion and export it to the outside world.
All eyes are on Brazil these days since the election of Bolsonaro. Do you think he is going to have an influence on the freedoms of the creative industry?
The future is very uncertain. In recent months, we have experienced very significant conservative moves in absolutely every area. The Bolsonaro election was a complete shock. The only thing that was going on in our heads was the life risk we ​​would face daily with a government under his command. The feeling was of intense terror for months. A bitter feeling that left us impotent for a long time, until we discovered strength within that movement and the possibility of it all served as a fuel for us to rise and face all these issues both internally and with the world.
Four months have passed since he became president there have just been scandals, like high-ranking officials being fired and replaced constantly because of the lack of planning. The new government has no idea how to run a country of continental proportions like ours. Recently, he said, “I was not born to be a president, I was born to be a soldier”, so I think this says a lot. Bolsonaro was elected thanks to a campaign entirely tied to smudging the names of opponents and associating them with crimes of corruption and even terrorism. This all happened through Whatsapp, which is the main communication app here. Every time he opens his mouth to speak, there is a new scandal.
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He is certainly polemic, to say the least.
First, because of the ideals he has. He says that Nazism was a leftist movement, or that the period of twenty years of military dictatorship in 1964 (a period when creatives, journalists and politicians were censored, held captive and brutally tortured with their families in basements across the country, simply for talking about something that was considered inappropriate) was a revolution. They want to change the textbooks; they are at all costs trying to approve a social insurance reform that will only make life worse for the poorest; they have just announced that there will be no investment in scientific research in universities and are causing a mess in the country without having any concrete plans. So everything is so uncertain. But we don’t know if they will go as far as censoring artistic and press freedom because we still have a constitution that guarantees them – at least until now. We’ll keep fighting.
Moving to a brighter side. What has your biggest accomplishment been so far?
I think our greatest achievement is to be where we are today. Two young men in their early twenties entering a fashion market as closed as the Brazilian is already a huge accomplishment. But beyond that, we can say that one of the things that we are most proud of is that we can put our vision in almost everything we do. People always want us to create and this turns out to be a really special experience, which we think every photographer/artist should have in this automated world to where our generation is heading. In addition to the inclusion we have been able to implement in most of our work.
What projects are you currently working on? Something you can reveal?
We are working on some great projects that surely will leave a mark on our lives. But there are some smaller ones in which we want to start talking more and more about important issues related to our time. Also, we’re trying to incorporate other forms of art in our photography. We have plans to open our horizons a bit this year and see more of the world as well.
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