In strappy white heels, a blue mini dress, bleached hair, and voluminous bangs —a look that can be traced back to our tías in the ’90s — photographer Fabian Guerrero pays homage to his role model, Yadira. The LA-based artist known for documenting brown queer culture on film — from his ranchero series to fashion photography — is now stepping into the realm of performative art through self-portraits.
One of his latest projects is a tribute to his sister Yadira. He replicates a photo taken of her in the ’90s that represents a specific era in which Guerrero began exploring his sexuality and identity. For this self-portrait, Guerrero embodies the woman that embraced his queerness as a young, brown teenager growing up in the hood of southern Texas. By recreating this moment in his life through the lens of Yadira, he digs deep into his past — both the good and not so good memories that led him to where he is now: a proud queer artist.
There’s a common trend of misrepresentation or lack of documentation in brown queer communities. By documenting his coming-out story in this unique way, the Texan photographer intends to showcase the importance of feeling seen by the ones you love and, in return, showing gratitude to those who accepted you as you are. Self-portraits serve as mirrors, a way to reflect on the past and present, and allow others to see themselves through that reflection. Guerrero, who tends to work behind the camera, demonstrates vulnerability by placing himself in front of the lens while also letting us look into his past as he transforms himself into Yadira.
With Guerrero’s photos recently exhibited at the Residency Art Gallery in The New Contemporaries exhibition, which “challenges artists to recover their personal narratives as people of color existing in today’s society,” we caught up with the photographer to talk about the tribute, its significance, and more. Read the interview, ahead.
For your exhibition photo titled ‘Yadira,’ you embody your sister as she was during your teen years. What made you decide to use yourself as the subject?
At the end of the day, I’m a storyteller using my own body. I talk a lot about my experiences, and I’m using my physical self to tell this certain story or to reflect on this memory. When I’m able to be in front of a camera and make myself the only subject, I really touch base on all these details and connections that I always talk about. So when I chose this approach, it was just the beginning of that kind of work that I’ll do more of as I go on. This show has been my first one to really display that kind of homage and storytelling. Overall, I get to perform and tap into a deeper level of my emotions. Also, I’m able to connect with others: within [the] community, the brown community, queer, and LGBTQ. They’re able to reflect and connect and be seen and represented within myself and through myself.
What stories are you telling through this tribute?
I wanted to talk about that specific moment in my life where I was out in high school, and I was really exploring my queerness. I was unfiltered. I was very raw. I had no limits to what I was doing, where I was going, or how I was expressing myself. A lot of those memories had my sister and were around my sister. She was the first person I came out to, and she was a big support system to me and to my gay, lesbian, and trans friends that I had in high school. She provided such a safe space and safe moments. We were young, we were wild, and we lived in the hood, to the point that us kids were trying to be rebellious and just fuck it up — and she understood that. She was always down. My gay friends would come over to the house, and we would be in our backyard, and then she would just party with us. She was holding it down and made sure we were safe and taken care of.
When I really think about that, it’s just like wow, I never realized what she truly was, what she actually meant to me. I cherish those moments of her getting ready and making me go shopping with her. Those moments have been so powerful. She was the one who taught me how to embody my femme energy. I found myself in her, and I wanted to be her at her age.
“She was the first person I came out to, and she was a big support system to me and to my gay, lesbian, and trans friends that I had in high school.”
As a photographer, how’s your experience different from being in front of the camera instead of behind?
I’m still learning so much. So for me, visually, I can easily see what’s in my head and direct my subjects in that way. When it’s me in front of the camera, what I see in my head, within myself, sometimes doesn’t reflect in the same [way]. So I had to factor in that notion. It’s a reminder to enjoy the process. It becomes a moment of healing and releasing. You’re making a memory come to life, and that has always been so beautiful.
So, photography has helped you heal…
When I’m capturing these beautiful moments of memory and history, I get to sit there and realize that in the past 10 or 20 years, how much work I did within myself to get to the present — to where I’m at now. I have grown and evolved and will always continue to evolve and transcend. I realized that I’m able to make peace with the past, to look at it and to remember or to stare at my work and just accept the fact that I have all this joy and talent and inspiration around my life.
As you relived the past while embodying your sister during a particular time in your life, did it bring up feelings or memories you had stored away?
I was an emotional wreck and stressed with this because I was thinking perfection at first with the image [of my sister]. At the moment, I remembered how perfect she was, but then it made me realize what does perfection actually mean? I realized that she obviously had her own issues, dealing with the men in her life — dealing with abuse, trauma, especially living in the neighborhood that we grew up in. I had to remember those moments. I’m learning that she also wasn’t perfect herself. The way I was seeing her is just the vision of perfection because she was who I aspired to be. She was a role model. And when we think about role models, we always think about perfection. But I definitely enjoyed the process and just had to let go. At the end of the day, I just want to take it back to that night that she was getting ready to go to the club.
Often our narratives as POC, especially for queer folks, are erased, and that’s something your work comments on. As someone documenting and preserving moments, what do you want your photos to say to future generations?
I think about the next first-generation boys and girls that will be coming out and the ones that are barely flourishing and trying to figure out life. When I think about my work and creating work, I’m hoping to make something that, at least for them, is a sign or an image as a work of art to really reflect and connect to. I want them to feel inspired by and feel like they’re being seen. I think about a younger generation just really tapping into themselves in a way they probably never thought they could — tapping into being expressive, writing or documenting, or being artistic.
How does your family feel about your personal work?
They have a better understanding of what I do, who I am as a person, and how I express myself. So I think it’s beautiful that they listen when I talk about it, and [we have] moments where they might be unsure of something, but then they ask a question, and I’m able to educate them. For example, I could probably pose nude, and for them, they could probably be like, “What are you doing?” So I’m able to show them other examples of who inspires me and how it’s reflected in my work and for them to see [it] like, “Oh, okay.”
What other projects are you working on?
I’m working closely with communities in Texas, especially within the south, the very southern tip of Texas, which is a very border town known as the valley. Even though it’s still Texas, it’s a very different type of way of living down there. The brown and queer community — and the many issues that happen — I believe just get overshadowed. So I just did a project about a month ago in Texas working with the youth. You’ll probably start seeing more of that identity representation: What it means to be brown and queer in Texas.
For a big part of my life, I couldn’t really do the work I wanted to do, especially within my community and state that raised me and birthed me. Now that I’m tapping into performative work and self-portraits, I’m starting to realize that a lot of that is back in Texas. The only way for me to talk about these specific memories and spaces, make them more meaningful and deeper is when I really get to be there, be in these spaces, and even just work with the community that provided that for me.