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Claudia Jares
Photography Claudia Jares

Photos celebrating queer culture in Latin America

Argentinian photographer Claudia Jares documents LGBTQ+ experiences and attitudes in a country still coming to terms with the diverse spectrum of sexuality and identity

“I’ve been drawn to the erotic since I was a teenager,” author, photographer, and performance artist Claudia Jares tells Jenny Papalexandris in the introduction of her new book Dark Tears: LGBTQ Resilience in Latin AmericaBorn and raised in Argentina, Jares draws on her own experiences growing up in Latin America to explore ideas around sexuality, identity, and religion within her images.

While being sensitive to her subjects’ experiences, Jares' book documents the raw emotions and attitudes of same-sex couples and tells the stories of individuals coming to terms with their sexuality. Dark Tears presents the photographers work alongside quotes from her subjects themselves, providing an intimate glimpse into the relationships of gay, lesbian, and gender nonconforming couples.

In anticipation of the book publishing on June 11 during LGBT Pride Month, Jares tells us about how she got into photography, and how she uses her lens to share LGBTQ+ experiences.

“Hopefully (the book) will bring happiness to others in different countries who can see and know that they are not alone, that there is a constant struggle, but they can also be happy” – Claudia Jares

Could you talk about your own experience of growing up in Buenos Aires under a military dictatorship, and then moving to America?

Claudia Jares: I grew up living in a city where there is violence everywhere. As a teenager I didn’t realise the danger – nothing stopped us. My friends and I wanted to go out, and we did, eight in one car late at night, like any other teen in the world. We had to adapt to some things, like carrying our IDs everywhere we went. If you forgot it, and suddenly the police or army stopped you, you had to go to jail for a few hours until your parents picked you up. I was a kid. I had no idea of what was really going on. Alike in Nazi Germany, only a few knew what was happening to the disappearing people. Little by little, mouth to mouth, we started to know. Kids from high schools were detained. At university, we had to adapt to national music. Everything had to be national, but we got our vinyl anyway from all over the world. Our expectations weren’t that much. We wanted to meet boys, girls, listen to music, have sex, party, and go to school. But my parents did realise how dangerous it was, so as soon as I finished high school, they sent me to Boston. Boston was paradise to me – total freedom, a strong gay community. People were totally free, and I loved that! I felt free to choose whatever I wanted to be in my life, which I did.

How did you first get into photography?

Claudia Jares: I started, technically, in Boston at The New England School of Photography. This was where I discovered the magic of photography: of the darkroom, the laboratory, and most of all, how my creative energy was developing. I was lucky enough to see a photo in front of my eyes and shoot it. After a while, I understood I was starting to see the world, the people, nature, with new eyes. I saw pictures everywhere and my emotions grew constantly to the point where I feel I am the camera, the camera is me.

Now, emotionally (getting into photography) was another story. I grew up in a family which was passionate about art, music, poetry, photography, and movies. There were pictures everywhere, so I know almost everything about my ancestors' lives and events from images printed in the paper. I was fascinated. It is a treasure for me. It is my life story.

How would you describe the LGBTQ+ experience in Latin America? And would you say that attitudes are shifting?

Claudia Jares: What I can say is that people with gender and/or dissident sexual orientation have more and more visibility in spaces in the mass media. The Equal Marriage Law was very important – promulgated in Argentina in 2010 – and the Gender Law in 2012, since they opened doors, not only from the recognition of parties and people who are not part of our LGBTTIQ community but at the legal level. These laws made it possible for almost all universities to have a gender protocol; that is, an Internal Regulation where discrimination is not tolerated and sanctioned (by law); respect is demanded of people who choose to have a different gender than the biological one, respecting the name and the gender with which the person is perceived, beyond the one that appears in their ID (besides having the possibility of changing this one where the one of its self-perception appears); as well as respect for dissident sexualities, demanded by condemning bullying, whether provoked by internal people of the universities (students, teaching, and non-teaching staff), external (students), or intermediate (providers, etc.). In this way, the legal protection of dissidents allows us to hide our identity or our sexual condition. Visibility begins to expand, and documentaries, festivals, and LGBTTIQ artworks are played minute by minute.

For 10 years we have an LGBTTIQ supplement that goes out every Friday in one of the most prestigious and largest circulation newspapers in Argentina, (on) Page 12. From its inception, this newspaper does not present any type of censorship, it is totally free; either from the content of his notes to the prose with which we write (in many cases we use foul and abject language, we provoke the moralists, and we have the full support of the newspaper). They also write and develop inclusive language, which is increasingly implemented in different spheres of our society.

More and more LGBTTIQ groups are emerging from political parties, independent groups, spaces within cultural spaces, universities that have gender offices, diplomas in sexual diversity, etc. This does not exclude certain homo(phobic), lesbo(phobic), transphobic environments, such as some religious and military spaces. While in others, for example, the Campo de Mayo Military Base has a Diversity Office, where any person who feels discriminated against – either because of their sexual condition, self-perceived gender, as well as their race or nationality – may denounce to people who do not respect it. By this, I mean that we have gained a lot of ground in terms of rights, but there is still a lot left. But the struggle continues, like any other fight against old structures, in all societies around the world.

“I was trying to get out (of my subjects) the artistic part of each of them, which was a total success – art is the medicine for so many traumas” – Claudia Jares

How did you select the same-sex couples that you chose to photograph?

Claudia Jares: My friends, my closest friends, and so – like a spider's web, from mouth-to-mouth, phone calls, summer or winter, sunny or rainy days, we did it. This family was built for this book, which was made with a lot of love, courage, and wanting to find a meaning for life. That sometimes happens, but we don't stop to look at the other one. And this point is very important. These friends of friends gave me their all. This is no joke – they work and express themselves in front of a camera and you can tell with their soul, and body, who they really are. They really wanted to tell their stories of love, friendship, loneliness, sadness, happiness, survival. Even if in the book there is not so much written about each one, the images speak for themselves.

Dark Tears also documents the experiences of those still coming to terms with their sexuality: how did you make these subjects feel at ease in front of your camera?

Claudia Jares: I made the proposal to be part of this project, which for me touched with humanity, a part of society which is always despised. I wanted to show beauty where there is always pain. I was trying to get out (of my subjects) the artistic part of each of them, which was a total success – art is the medicine for so many traumas. It was fun, delirious, sad, very emotional, but we were creating, and this is a great point. When you feel satisfied with yourself and accepting, do not let people push you around, instead put up a fight! Knowing all the shit around in society, (the subjects) all go forward, nothing will stop them, art or no art. It is a fact. 

Do you feel that the publication of Dark Tears is particularly relevant or timely now?

Claudia Jares: Dark Tears speaks of love, sex, diversity, and learning to sustain oneself in life. Hopefully, it will bring happiness to others in different countries who can see and know that they are not alone, that there is a constant struggle, but they can also be happy. I feel very satisfied with this collaboration, and until now, the only thing I have heard are words of happiness, joy, and enthusiasm, making people feel more connected. I hope this book serves as a union tool for all.