In the confined kitchen of a New York City apartment, a slender figure in all black stretches, elongates, and pirouettes, then rests on a refrigerator door handle he uses as an impromptu barre. Documentary photographer Sofía Muñoz Boullosa took the images of the bleach-haired, 24-year-old ballet dancer for her portrait series, Pedro. The project undermines persistent generalizations of Mexican immigrants today by featuring images of Mexican men named Pedro from all ages, backgrounds, and professions.
You can find Muñoz’s Pedro series and dozens more compelling photo series on Foto Féminas, an online platform for female photographers from Latin America and the Caribbean. Founded and curated by Venezuelan photographer Verónica Sanchis Bencomo, the project incorporates a monthly profile of a female photographer from Latin American selected by Sanchis, a monthly Instagram takeover, offline exhibits throughout Latin America, and a mobile library of photography books that travels around the world. The hope is to expand the reach of female photographers photographers and their work, but also to show a fresh and more humanistic perspective on Latin America that Sanchis believes female photographers can offer.
Clicking through Foto Feminas, you’ll find stories that encompass documentary and fine art photography, that cover the entire continent, and range in theme from the indigenous Tsáchilas of Ecuador to abortion access in Chile to street entertainment works in New York City’s Time Square.
“I think they don’t get stuck in stereotypes,” Sanchis says about the featured women. “There is a lot about identity in these stories and I can see why I have gravitated toward them. I think they’re about looking for something beyond the negative stories, which I’m not trying to deny. But I think we have more nuance to us.”
When Sanchis immigrated to the United Kingdom at the age 17, she didn’t plan to study photography – although it had been a childhood interest. Rather, a college professor suggested she take an introductory course, which led to a life-long passion to capture images and examine photography through her writing. While she stayed in the United Kingdom to finish college, she always kept an eye toward Latin America, completing a thesis on the contrasting perspectives of foreign and native photographers in documenting Mexico. Later, she started a blog on Latin American photographers that remained live on the culture site Ventana Abierta for three years.
“Everything that I mentioned started coming together, my interest in Latin America and how people are portrayed in Mexico, so then I started to take a more personal perspective, looking inward as a photographer, as a woman, and as someone from Venezuela,” Sanchis says. “I started asking myself where can I find what my peers are working on, what sort of topics are women interested in within the region.”
Throughout the years, Sanchis had investigated the work of Latina photographers on her own and in 2014, she decided she could devote an entire website to this research. She explained her experiences overseas revealed to her many Westerners weren’t aware of any photography by Latin American women, which she believes points to a lack of visibility.
“I’ve had encounters with people who ask me, ’Who are the female photographers of Latin America?,’” Sanchis says. “People don’t know. Very often, they know the biggest names like Graciela Iturbide, but she’s already well-established. Whereas I’m also very interested in the contemporary, the in this moment, the now.”
A 2016 World Press Photo survey revealed only 15 percent of entries to its annual competition were women and only 65 percent of respondents hailed from non-Western countries. To stay in the photo industry and to thrive is already a challenging prospect today, but being a woman and from Latin American can be an additional barrier. Sanchis adds that some of the female photojournalists she interviewed complained of the discrimination they faced in getting commissions, particularly for stories in areas considered dangerous. “Perhaps it’s all related to the belief that danger cannot be faced by women,” Sanchis says.
In recent years, global initiatives have surged to combat a diversity problem felt in all levels of the photojournalism industry. In 2017, the industry witnessed the rise of WomenPhotograph, an online database for female photographers; Diversify Photo, a database for photographers of color; Majority World Agency, a collective of non-western photographers; and Reclaim, an association that unites the efforts of all these organizations promoting inclusivity.
Sanchis believes that the tide is changing in the industry, thanks to the efforts of people who are no longer willing to wait around for change. In Latin America, she points to the rise of new festivals that are creating the opportunities Latin American natives had previously hoped would open up to them in the United States or Europe. Some of these collaborative projects and growing communities are even coming about through the Foto Féminas platform, such as one exhibit in Caracas that took form when Sanchis helped link two Venezuelan photographers.
“Sometimes all you need is one bridge for things to happen,” Sanchis says. “And I would like to think that Foto Feminas can help in that way.”
October 10 at 12:10 p.m. ET: This post originally stated that Instagram takeovers happened on a weekly basis. They happen once a month. The post has been updated to reflect this.