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Guilherme da Silva
Photography Guilherme da Silva

Guilherme da Silva’s photos imagine a dreamy queer utopia

Overture zine celebrates LGBTQ+ Brazillian youth living in an oppressive political climate

When Guilherme da Silva began taking photos at age 15, he didn’t have any references and had, admittedly, no idea what he was doing. That was until an interested teacher pointed him in the direction of Nan Goldin, and from there, he also discovered David Armstrong. It was like stumbling on a goldmine where he felt validated and connected to something larger than his home country of Brazil, where its laws violently discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. “Now their works play a huge part in my research on LGBTQ+ photography,” da Silva tells me. “Because most of what I’ve been doing is portraits, and that’s my interest: people. And most of all, my community.”

It’s his community that he turns the spotlight on in his zine, Overture, a celebration of queer Brazillian youth living in an oppressive political climate. In da Silva’s constructed world though, they are free to be who they want. Inspired by the idea of Arcadia, as painted by Thomas Eakins, da Silva photographs bodies at leisure, in pleasure, with lush, green grass.

With plans to leave his homeland behind in search of spaces that are more accepting of him and his vision, Overture feels like a parting gift, with illustrations from da Silva’s boyfriend, Lucas Bassetto. Below, da Silva debuts the zine and speaks about the art and poetry that inspired it, the reality of life as a queer person in Brazil, and his hopes for the future.

You were inspired by the idea of “Arcadia”. Can you tell us how that translates into the imagery? 

Guilherme da Silva: The concept of Arcadia in art and poetry is about harmony with nature – like an Edenic life where its inhabitants are often portrayed celebrating their lives in this utopian land uncorrupted by civilisation. I was inspired to create this world where my friends and I could live this fantasy of being somewhere else in the universe. It’s a sylvan realm, like the paintings of Thomas Eakins who inspired me with the golden, sun-kissed colour palette in some of the pictures.

I wanted to do the gay twist of Justine Kurland’s Girl Pictures, someone I’ve been looking up to a lot lately. Her runaway girls and the story behind her book, the political eye, were a huge inspiration in the middle of the whole process of the zine. I wanted to be dramatic, but I also wanted to show the youthful bliss of being able to be who you are in this place where nobody judges anyone.

This zine gives a romantic view of being LGBTQ+ in Brazil, but what is the reality like for these communities?

Guilherme da Silva: I was born and raised in the southern region of Brazil, colonised by Italy and Germany. Everyone is very conservative there. Luckily my family is not, so my home was a safe space, but outside was a nightmare.

As a gay kid, I suffered a lot during my school years. I had anxiety and panic attacks during high school, and I’ve been threatened, beaten up, and suffered a lot of verbal abuse. As an adult, I don’t know if I can see a change. It’s not been easy since Bolsonaro won the elections in 2018. That’s why I wanted to create this dream-like fantasy with my work, to escape the reality of this country that has never been kind to us.

I hope things will change because right now, reality scares my people and me a lot. Brazil is the country that most kills transgender people, and it’s been hard to live with this information daily.

You’ve experienced homophobic attitudes yourself in regards to your practice. How did that impact the images you made?

Guilherme da Silva: When I moved to Sao Paulo, I started being commissioned for brands and magazines as a fashion photographer. Most of the photographers I admire did this kind of job, so I was very happy that I was following this path and getting some money.

But then I noticed that the industry wasn’t so friendly with LGBTQ people when I was called to do an editorial for the Brazilian part of a well-known worldwide men’s publication. The editor asked me not to choose any ‘feminine’ ‘gay-like’ guys for the casting because the magazine was not for ‘sassies’. I was in shock at first, I could barely talk, and I left.

In Brazil, we don’t have many publications; most of them don’t give any freedom unless you are straight. I stepped away from these kinds of editorial jobs and be pickier when I received a proposal. It’s been two years, and it’s helped me to clean my eye and be more focused on my personal work. I still hear some shit from people saying that my personal work is not good enough to get commercial jobs, that there are only pictures of LGBTQ people on my Instagram, and I should ‘photograph cisgender female new face girls’ so clients could see that I’m capable of being commissioned. It’s an everyday struggle, but I don’t hear this kind of ‘advice’. That’s how I created this body of work – by believing in myself. 

How do Brazil’s queer communities express themselves under the oppression they face?

Guilherme da Silva: We spend most of our childhood and teenage years trying to hide, and when we are adults, we don’t really know who we are. You have to start to say yes to yourself and no to the kind of advice you hear from straight people disguised as someone who is trying to help you. You have to listen to queer people, research queer history, watch queer movies, be as queer as you can be, and choose your friends if you don’t have a family who supports you. You have to be your most fervorous supporter and never, ever, ever let an old straight white man tell you what to do.

What do you hope to show by publishing this zine?

Guilherme da Silva: The title speaks a lot for me. I want to show that this is only the beginning of my self-publications. I think it’s a good way to start this portfolio. The message is there – I hope when people see the pictures, they feel transported to this world, laying on the grass with the sun, listening to a Lana Del Rey song, being free to be who they want to be.