Pin It
Paola Vivas, “Sophie Castillo”, Espacio Latino (2022)
Paola Vivas, “Sophie Castillo”, Espacio Latino (2022)Photography Paola Vivas

Candid portraits of London’s Latinx community at home

Espacio Latino by Paola Vivas is the new photo book highlighting the diversity of the city’s Latin American community

Since relocating to London 13 years ago, Mexican-born photographer Paola Vivas has felt moved to document Latinx culture in the city. As one of London’s less recognised migrant communities, Vivas wanted to redress some of the limiting perceptions she’s encountered and create a space for more positive representation. “Increasing visibility for an almost invisible community is something that has grown on me and has become something I am extremely passionate about,” she tells Dazed. “There are so many [misconceptions], I wouldn’t even know where to start… from the general idea that Latinos only work in the service industry to being overly sexualised – especially as women, to specifically looking a certain way, with tanned skin, black hair, and dark eyes.”

In lockdown, she finally began shooting a series of intimate portraits of her London Latinx community in their homes. She recalls, “Shooting for the project began in early 2021, at a time when many people were isolated at home due to the pandemic. For me, it meant I refound passion in my work at a moment in life when I really needed something to push me out of this circle of doubt that the pandemic brought.”

Vivas’ debut photobook Espacio Latino seeks to highlight the diversity of Latinx people while challenging traditional depictions of what it means to be Latinx in the UK. The book features a diverse selection of individuals of all ages across the gender spectrum. Among the individuals included are Natalia Jorquera, journalist and filmmaker dedicated to telling the stories of people who don’t have a voice, and HIV advocate Roberto Tovar – founder of Numero de Serie, a campaign that combines creative practices with advertising to reach those who do not have access to sexual health information.

Vivas also felt privileged to include portraits of Alonso Gaytan, a non-binary fashion designer whose work explores the decolonising of contemporary culture through the lens of the media. “Alonso is going through such a big change in her life at the moment, it meant she had to show herself in her most vulnerable estate, this was the first time she allowed anyone to photograph her during her transition and felt like a very special but difficult moment in which she had to let go of that fear. She was very brave and kind enough to let me document a small part of the process.”

“We form part of the cultural richness of this country and we are ready to show that” – Paola Vivas

Despite being London’s eighth biggest population not born in the UK, it wasn’t until 2012 that Southwark became the first borough to formally recognised Latin American Londoners as a distinct ethnic group. Reflecting on why it’s taken so long, Vivas says: “I think it is a combination of several factors… firstly, Latino culture encompasses so many different backgrounds that I can understand why it has been confusing and difficult to group so much diversity into one single segment of society. This makes no sense unless we understand our unifying cultural experience of coming from a colonised history, hence having lived some of the same challenges in our own ways, one step at a time.” 

She also considers how the bureaucracy of the immigration process limits the choices available to Latino people settling in the UK: “A lot of the Latino population are well-educated young people, but at the time of arriving in this country they have had to come or stay here illegally, due to the excessive immigration rules, so they had to just take whatever was given to them… jobs, salary, rights.” She describes this experience as a “life in the shadows” – living in fear of immigration police and being unable to establish oneself as a citizen. “This sets us, like any other colonised migrating group, into a ‘marginalised’ community causing setbacks when you cannot fight for what you deserve or need.”

Alongside this collection of tender, intimate portraits and life stories, Vivas also founded Directorio, an independent directory and support network for multidisciplinary Latin Americans working in the creative industries. She’s dedicated to reclaiming and harnessing “Latino power for the creatives worldwide”: “We form part of the cultural richness of this country and we are ready to show that.” Take a look at the gallery above for a glimpse of Espacio Latino.

Espacio Latino by Paola Vivas is published on April 8 2022 and is available to preorder from here now. The first 30 copies will be accompanied by a small signed and numbered print.