Fernando Torres shares a collaborative series that brings attention to the difficulties faced as a double minority
Navigating your coming out can be hard enough, but when you’re of immigrant descent it can be difficult to find a place which feels comfortable and confident. It’s a struggle many immigrant LGBTQ+ can relate to, including art director Fernando Torres, whose latest collaborative series – with photographers Chris Rinke, Rickard Sund, and Francisco Gomez De Villaboa – fights to combat and represent this exact struggle.
“I discovered that no matter what our backgrounds are, we all had very similar experiences and feelings of being an outsider,” he explains of his collaborators. “That cultural duality can sometimes be alienating, and when you add sexual preference to that, it can be overwhelming.”
Commissioned by Unionen, who actively supports LBGTQ+ rights in the workplace, Fernando Torres shot portraits of LGBTQ+ individuals of immigrant backgrounds with photographers in London, Stockholm, and Berlin for the series titled The Rainbow Project.
Torres grew up in Norsborg, which he describes as “a heavy migrant area”, in a Latin family. “There were only two Swedish kids in my class until I started high school in Central Stockholm,” he says. “High school was all about trying to fit into the toxic masculinity which ruled the playground, but I failed miserably.”
Although Torres describes Sweden as “one of the most equal and accepting countries in the world”, he struggled to come to terms with his sexuality. He recalls: “I kept thinking there was no way my Latin parents where going to accept my sexuality. Outside of his household, he ran into more roadblocks. “A lot of the gay men I came across had a very strong vision of what I should be like,” he says. “The dom, top, Latino hunk fantasy of their dreams. Which I wasn’t at all. There was a massive lack of representation of any ethnic LGBTQI+ persons and I loathed the fetishising of my ethnicity.”
It was around this time that he decided to move to London. While there was a period of feeling like he fit in, he began to see similar patterns which he had experienced before, where “masculine (muscle) cisgender white men are at the top of the food chain, the fetishisation of ethnicity, and how normalised sex, drugs, and alcohol abuse was in the community.” Ultimately, it led Torres to a breaking point.
Having witnessed first-hand systemic racism and homophobia within the fashion industry, on his return to Stockholm he was looking for a way to “erase” those experiences, and The Rainbow Project was born.
With an emphasis on joy, Torres hopes the photo series and its empowering queer imagery will be a form of courage for young kids questioning their sexuality. “I hope to inspire young kids to come out, but also the LGBTQ+ community to have important conversations about mental health, race and sexual identity.” He continues: “Many (people) face violence from families and communities when they come out despite living in cities like London, Berlin, and Stockholm. Many still choose to never come out and live a life in hiding, and many who do come out do not feel a part of the general gay community.”
The subjects of the portraits are individuals Torres feels have an important story to tell. Take Soul Suleiman, for example, who after being raised in Birmingham by a traditional Muslim family “found it difficult to be herself, so she moved to Berlin and found her tribe, and is now about to direct her first-ever lesbian feminist porn film”. Or Lebanese drag performer Cupcake, who also moved to Berlin. Despite his whole family being blocked on his social media, the drag artist still receives messages from them wishing that he would just be ‘normal’.
Torres says that during the shoots he wanted to let the subjects self-style and create their own versions of themselves. “Everyone was told to bring two looks with them. I created situations and directed them,” he says. “It was important for me that each subject got to present themselves as they see themselves and not my vision of them.”
While the portraits have already been exhibited at this year’s Järva political festival in Stockholm, Torres hopes to bring the exhibition to both London and Berlin later this year.