Pin It
Felipe Orellana. “Javier”
Felipe Orellana. “Javier”Photography Felipe Orellana

Embrace the femme: Beautiful portraits of young queer men

Felipe Orellana’s photographs offer a sensitive, vulnerable vision of a masculinity

Felipe Orellana’s dreamy portraits of languid, reclining young men suggest the sense that we’re glimpsing something private; we are being granted a brief interlude in the bedrooms, balconies, and intimate moments of beautiful strangers. 

This ongoing series, which Orellana began working on in 2019, is an exploration of masculinity and an attempt to reframe the limitations of gender binaries. As a queer photographer, he’s interested in challenging the expectations placed upon male-identifying individuals. “My images try to depict an alternative,” he explains in a conversation over email. “I seek to portray the young, the sensitive, and the mutants.” 

Having moved in quick succession from Santiago to Berlin and then to Madrid, Orellana has more than once found himself far from home and friendless in a new town. “I’m used to being the new one in a city where I don’t know anyone,” he tells Dazed. Taking portraits of strangers provided an infrastructure which not only enabled him to meet like-minded people but also accelerated the intimacy of their encounter. “Somehow the project makes social life easier for me, by pushing me to be friendlier.” 

Initially, Orellana began this series when he moved to Berlin in 2019, meeting queer people through social media and dating apps. He says, “I use the camera as a means to connect and reflect, to create this brief bond with that other person who, in addition to inspiring me with beauty in an aspirational way, invites me to be part of their story for a day or an afternoon.”

He may use his camera to capture other people’s lives, to connect and reflect, but the practice of photography is one that has also become deeply entwined in Orellana’s own daily life. He tells us about the type of moments that might compel him to reach for his camera: “Sometimes I think about my project as ‘a day in the life of’ the subjects. Most of my pictures meet halfway between ‘documentary’ and ‘staged’. Even though I plan most of the shoots, I try to keep them as close to reality as possible. I try to stay near, or in their spaces, so there’s an unveiling process which happens.”

While he perceives that the gender structures we live within are inherited, his aim is to create images portraying possibilities beyond the templates that have been bequeathed to us;  to “reshape the traditional imagery we have of men.” He reflects, “I was taught – and probably our parents got taught too – to behave in those specific ways and to perform this gender under its rules. But I want whatever ‘masculinity’ is to coexist with queerness and femininity; to celebrate everyone who was deprived of vulnerability or self-expression.”

Accordingly, Orellana’s subjects deviate from the common representation of maleness, which he defines as “confident, strong, sometimes aggressive and always distant from their emotions.” Instead, his subjects seem vulnerable and tender – laying prone or entwined, gazing invitingly back at the camera. “As a joke, my friends and I tend to describe the aesthetic of my work as ‘young men lying on their living room floor’,” he laughs, admitting, “There’s some truth in that...”

For a closer look at Felipe Orellana’s ongoing photo series, take a look through the gallery above.