in a world where gender is fluid, what is the relevance of the male and female gaze?
We speak to trailblazing artist Reuel Lara about divas, diversity, and deconstructing societal norms.
Reuel Lara is a 22-year-old queer artist living in New York. A femme-identifying person of color, Reuel shoots his close female friends framed within intimate spaces (think Ryan McGinley meets Petra Collins). Reuel's work focuses on empowering women of color; dismantling the traditional cis white male gaze, Reuel's images celebrate the many facets of the female identity. Reuel was born "male," so the portraits simultaneously challenge the notion of the male gaze. But in a world where gender is understood to be fluid, what is the relevance of concepts like these male and female gazes? "Gender, for me is a construct," Reuel explains. "I don't want to be a person who enforces gender dichotomies." Currently working on a new photo book, we talk to the trailblazing artist about divas, diversity, and deconstructing societal norms.
Tell me about yourself and where you grew up.
My name is Reuel Lara and I grew up in DC.
How has your background affected your work?
I guess because I've always been surrounded by people who hustle and grind daily, that mentality of work, work, and work is instilled in me. Regardless of the work I do, I'm happy to know how to approach each money move completely being myself, knowing what I want, and how to accomplish it.
When did you first get into art?
I started getting into art about a year ago. I was living a very mundane life and, I guess like all artists who are doing their thing now, I needed an outlet. I couldn't sing or dance, so that was out of the question. I had this epiphany one night, and I thought to myself, 'You always have these attraction to images that you think of, why not just make them yourself.' So I went to the local thrift store and spent all my money on this cheap camera and basically just taught myself how to create these images that I just don't see in the art world or society.
Why photography in particular?
Photography was the easiest way to create the images I wanted to actualize and make tangible. I didn't have the patience to draw or paint, so I just pursued photography. With photography, you set up the image you want and it's almost like painting, but with light. In an instant you've created a "painting" without the hassle of using paint or markers or colored pencils.
Who or what inspires you?
The people in my life greatly influence me, especially those I photograph. The women and girls I photograph all have individual stories that, once I hear them, I'm instantly so inspired. They're divas, all of them! And in Beyoncé's words: "A diva is a female version of a hustler!" It's true; these women I photograph are hustlers — intelligent and complex in their own ways. Photographing them is my homage to them and their stories.
How would you describe your overall aesthetic?
Ever-changing! I don't want to stick to one aesthetic. Like life, I'm always looking for ways to improve and bring forth diversity with my work.
What is it you're trying to do with your art?
I want the world to know that my art is not about me. My art is homage — an homage to all the amazing people that I've encountered in my life. Their stories have impacted me in such a deep and emotional way. Through my art, I want the world to know that you don't need to have permission to do what you want. Take the time to learn. Learning is important and when you challenge yourself and when you face your fears, you can do anything you want to. That's the most liberating experience.
Why is it so important for you personally to give visibility to women of color?
It's important for me because women, especially women of color, are usually categorized and dehumanized. We live in such a world where everyone conforms and sort of perpetuates this attitude that is very misogynist and sexist, not even knowing that this "group think" way of viewing life is very toxic. I feel it's important to me, with all my power, to let the world know black women need to be celebrated and represented. Today in society, I feel content that more and more black women are taking control of the system and expressing themselves. I am so happy and fortunate to see and know so many intelligent, amazing black women breaking boundaries each day!
What do you look for in terms of your subjects?
I guess if my subject has a positive energy, then I feel as if I'm just hanging out with them.
What's the bravest thing you can do as a young person?
The bravest thing you can do as a young person is just being yourself. It's so cliché, but it's true. There's so many conformists, not enough genuine people.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I'm working on releasing new work in book form. It's definitely a lot of work, especially when you're a one-person band, but it's something that I've always wanted to do, so why not!
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
A NEW PRESIDENT!
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Reuel Lara