Luna Tristá, a young Cuban photographer living in Barcelona, talks about her photography and her latest photo set SHE IS MY MAN, which deals with gender identity, sexuality and queer culture in a personal yet humorous way.
Interview: Paulina Akbay
1. Hi Luna, please introduce yourself!
I was born in Havana, Cuba. I was a shy and introverted teenager. I spent hours quietly in my room looking at my family’s photo albums, reading or listening to music. Music was crucial for me. I studied violin for seven years in Italy and spent many hours rehearsing. I was always in touch with art. Later I decided to move to Spain where I began my training as a photographer and finished my studies at IDEP (High School of Image and Design) in Barcelona. If I have to talk about me, I also have to talk about some photographers that have been a turning point for my work and due to that my respect towards photography; people like Diane Arbus, Francesca Woodman, or Nan Goldin. I also think that one of the most important factors that influenced my work is where I come from, which makes me see things differently, regardless of where I live. I am convinced that I couldn’t create the same photos I wasn’t born in Cuba. The memories I have of Havana, its decay, its women and the strength that characterizes the Cuban people, these things are what leads me to work as I do.
2. How did you become a photographer and why?
I began studying photography because of the need to express myself, it was the beginning of a personal quest to find a way to communicate without using spoken language. Photography became visceral, it changed the way I see the world for good. My training was fashion photography in the beginning, but I was always searching to connect with another kind of beauty, because I was interested in other bodies, beauty in its purest form. When I knew the way I wanted to shape all that I have in my mind, I decided to choose a more intimate and personal photography and I started to develop my introspective side using other people’s bodies.
3. How would you describe your style of photography?
Intimate and visceral, each shot talks about me. My photography is usually in black and white, I do not seek perfection in the images I capture, the real beauty for me is the story that is within each of the bodies that I photograph. I follow my own canon and beauty concept. I mostly photograph women whom I do not have any kind of relationship with, women who do not fear criticism, that don’t censor their bodies or sexual orientation, women who are direct and daring, women that respond staring at the lens. They are usually strangers that I contact through social networks, I set the time and place and in most cases this is our first and only meeting.
4. What is your project ‘SHE IS MY MAN’ mainly about and what inspired you to do this project?
SHE IS MY MAN is my new project born in April 2015, it´s a series of portraits I took of my partner once a month, during our encounters in Barcelona and Paris. SHE IS MY MAN is about social themes, gender identity and queer culture. It´s a project that develops ironic and romantic undertones and explores these issues from a personal point of view.
5. Is being queer in Barcelona different than in Cuba for you and what is queer culture in Cuba like?
I think that a queer person in Barcelona is not very different from a queer person in Cuba, but what makes the difference between us is visibility and respect. Being queer, different and strange, transgender or butch at a phallocentric country with patriarchal structures, marked by a deeply macho culture is for the brave. In Havana there are underground parties, which are a bit surrealistic from our actual point of view. You call a phone number that a friend of a friend has given to you, they pick up the phone and tell you the address of the party, when you arrived there, you find more people than you had imagined, and that makes you feel less alone, you drink and laugh and meet other people like you looking for a place to feel safe, without others looking accusingly. Furthermore, Cuba is a country that is hopefully changing on LGBT rights, since 2010, conferences and seminars against lesbophobia, homophobia and transphobia have been organized, led by Mariela Castro, a sexologist, activist and Cuban deputy.
6. What would you like to change about queer culture and how it it is perceived internationally?
I wouldn’t change anything about queer culture, I would let it continue evolving at its own pace.
7. What is your advice when it comes to taking ‘good’ photos?
For a photo to be “the photo”, it has to be visceral, it has to hurt, like giving birth, it must be born from within. When you take a picture for the sake of taking a picture, you take distance of you and what you want to communicate. Photography will never be flat if you put your heart into it, it has to move and provoke reactions, whether of pleasure or discomfort, but it should never leave you indifferent.
8. What are your future plans regarding your photography?
My future plans are exhibiting in New York, Tokyo and Cuba.