“It’s Time History Gets Rewritten By The Oppressed, Not The Oppressors”: Camila Falquez On Championing A Soft, Subversive Queer Utopia

Nationalism, grief and murder. The trigger warnings at the heart of our world are enough to unsettle the most resilient thinker. Yet amidst all the blood and violence, there glimmers creativity’s refusal to shy away from poignant and timely social issues. Much more: Damned hypocrisy, racism, gender-shaming. In case you were wondering, “these issues were pivotal way before 2020 and the global downturns that followed,” writes the New York-hailed, Colombian-Mexican-Spanish photographer Camila Falquez.  

The artist is a leader in shepherding seismic shifts for marginalised communities in the crossover between the social and cultural spheres. But that’s just one level of who she is: Falquez is an expressive activist among the rising forces of Latino creatives and photographers and a woman of liberation; a polymath who is exerting her innermost experiences to connect with people from all over the world. All in the name of change. In this strangest of all times, 2020 has proven to be a year like no other. But a voracious impetus thrusted Falquez to persist in fearless mode: from shooting then President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris for Time magazine, to achieving a childhood dream by modelling the 50 looks of choreographer Merce Cunningham for The New York Times, she was able to conceive her most “challenging, quietly potent” body of work to date, Being. (Here, models endeavour to mimic the semblance of a classical sculpture, posing on self-made plinths to convey a sense of elevation). 

This—a series that stretches beyond the remits of conventional beauty, depicting queer acquaintances against a white background (whilst diving into LGBTQI+ literature and ancestry), and melanated bodies—is fittingly accurate in our modern age. “I started taking photos of people I found beautiful and friends of mine,” she recalls, “and it slowly grew into a really powerful body of work. I realised it was powerful because these are photos I’ve never seen before. Then what happened was the pandemic hit, and I had photographed a vast selection of work.” Then, “[her brain expanded], and I didn’t think it was going to be what it ended up being.” 

Whilst solidarity networks for marginalised communities and other marginalised groups have emerged, information has increased and discussions have burgeoned, discrimination has been buried underground; it’s unassuming. Crisis notwithstanding, she was “so conscious that it was important to create this momentum, and I couldn’t hold this in,” she says. “We’re all struggling, and we need to look up to these narratives, and despite the fact that I sent it to a range of outlets, not many welcomed this message.” And though the resurgence of social movements continues in unflinching unison—or better, a far cry from where normal patterns of equality should look like in this day and age—she explains, “I had messages such as: We want to work with representation, but this is ‘too heavy-handed.’” On these terms, Falquez chose the self-publishing route. “I decided to do an urban intervention and place these photos in large format across the West Village, which is the place where the Stonewall Riots began. And so, I didn’t really understand how, but it became a movement,” she explains. 

The ineluctable question isn’t how she managed it, but how an anthology of images became a manifesto where the subjects and viewer create a new language. “I could not have the words for it at all,” she says. “I created a manifesto, then a print sale, where profits were donated. Then, the wow-effect chimed in. (A deeper, sharper tangent that details a sub-narrative that’s quite surreal). “I realised that we’re so powerful: I say we because even though they’re my photos, I don’t feel it was me, but I felt it was all of these human beings really proud of who they are on a pedestal just like an army of beautiful royalty that weren’t allowed spaces before.”

Falquez understands the magnetic value of representation, albeit demonised by biased constructs. One might be forgiven to think that someone as influential as herself would have the freedom to discuss race and other intersecting forms of discrimination within the LGBTQI+ community, but this often was not the case. She stresses the importance of using her position, but how her thoughts are often tarnished, toned down so as not to cause controversy. “I want to make sure I say this loudly enough: I’m not the one uplifting anyone!” she blithely exclaims. “I’m only putting these people in this space; they are the ones who each time surprise me with so much power and beauty. It’s an apple box, not even a pedestal, but by photographing this I’m telling them that it’s their pedestal, own it.” It’s beautiful, and triggers fandom. “Something magical happens,” she smirks, gleefully. “It’s amazing that each and every one has the capacity to be what you want to be regardless of not being in History books.” 

The casting process acted as a freeing weapon for Falquez, who ventured on the streets and did just that: in the subway, in shops and between every corner. There’s not a selection process that is rational; rather it’s more instinctive.

As for stepping up to make a bigger statement of the differences between the first and second project? Well, she says: “The reason why this is part two is because I wasn’t ready to let this project go, as I didn’t feel it was finished. I launched it last year because I felt there was a crisis and we had to put this out, but it didn’t mean to me that that project was done.” And because there’s still so much to learn, to be said and to re-write, such narratives can only increase in significance. Which is where her sheer thinking comes in. “What I think is the difference is that everything that I’ve learned is understanding that history is a weapon, that whoever is in power tells us to maintain their power,” she says. “I’ve learned that history requires it to be rewritten, because it’s how we’re going to exist in books. I’m really conscious of the power of history used by the oppressors and how we need to rewrite that and use it to exist.” The identity of museums, says Falquez, is something that’s built around an “exceedingly Eurocentric ideal of representation,” not part of a logical extension of what’s happening in the world. She sees paintings as obsolete, and aches to skew off their visual stamp. “I travelled in different parts of Europe, and I visited museums,” she says. But she told herself: “I’m going to remake these paintings and edit that European vision of beauty, having learned that in order for us to exist, we can exist in our own language.”

It’s no stretch to imagine how appropriate this movement would have felt and performed years ago. “I wish five years ago I had seen this,” says Falquez.“Thanks to the work of other people and to the fact that we’re a movement, I have been able to find the courage, the strength and the determination to keep going. I’m learning from others around me, meeting speakers, activists and some are in the photos. Mine is just one little step in one big movement that’s happening. And it’s not about relevance, but just that we’re stronger. We’re many more going in the same direction.”

It’s a whole, relatable and readable thread—with a positively intrinsic meaning—about knowing where you fit in and embracing one’s differences. A powerful observation, that is. “Something that I feel is happening,” she reflects, “is the amount of power, vision, strength that the LGBTQI+ community has, and I couldn’t be more grateful for.” A jar of strength that brims with optimism. “What I see is the future. I see people live way ahead of this time. I’m not talking about beauty anymore, but the power of existing way beyond the history we’ve been told and rewriting that.”

Despite the troubled times, Falquez has learned a lesson: “It feels beautiful that what you do is important for society, because it’s doing something. What I love even more is that through my lens I open the door for others to come in.” Deviously reassuring representations of inclusivity to cling onto our psyche, Falquez—quite rightfully—unpicks the tokenism issue at hand. “I want people to feel that we’re beyond a movement or history,” she says. “I feel like the more photos like this exist, the more people understand there’s plenty of us. We’re a civilisation of people that is going to keep on coming. I hope people don’t see this as a one-time thing, but something that’s here to stay. We’re still here. We always have been.”

On hopes? Kudos to her for challenging the wrongs of our world whilst being mindful of the future, all at once. “I see a future led by trans Black women, as they’re incredibly powerful in marches and in society. That being said, I’m creating my dream utopia! It’s endless energy, what this gives me,” she reckons, “and I feel like I can do anything.”


Being is available now. 100 per cent of profits will be donated to The Stonewall Protests, a collective of Black Queer and Black Trans Activists centred on the Acknowledgment of All Black Life. For more information on the artist’s work, visit the website here.