Hedonistic pictures of Barcelona’s queer underworld

Argentinian photographer Leo Adef has spent four years capturing the Spanish city’s LGBT+ community.

by Douglas Greenwood
15 April 2021, 6:00am

Topless queer men light spliffs on the beach. A trans man injects testosterone on the toilet. Drag queens nonchalantly scroll through their phones and smoke. These are just some of the images that make up the new book from Leo Adef. Titled WARP, it’s comprised of photographs captured across four years spent in Barcelona's queer underworld.  

The artist -- born in Buenos Aires, Argentina -- started their project in 2018, documenting their life in Barcelona on video camera. Be it parties, sexual encounters or shoots with queer icons like Arca, all the moments captured were shot on film. Then from these films came thousands of screengrabs -- murky, heavy with grain, almost hallucinatory -- that Leo has condensed into 200 snapshots of the city's modern LGBTQ+ history. It is, with its frank and uncensored vision, an exposing and joyful collection of images. Here, alongside an exclusive first look at some of these pictures, Leo explains how WARP came to be.

the musician arca with green light shining onto them

What have you learned about Barcelona as a city through its queer scene? What are its people like? 
My vision and experience in Barcelona have changed a lot from the moment I arrived until now. I came from Buenos Aires eight years ago, and now my perception of the city is totally different. Four years ago, when I started this project, we started with a group of friends to generate safe spaces, parties and meetings for those who, like us, couldn't find places where we could be ourselves. What I like about the process of this book is that I have been able to capture all those moments and people that were part of this fast-growing community. Nowadays, we have a stronger queer community in Barcelona, and I feel very proud of that. I'm in love with the people that I've met here, and they inspire me too. I love taking a look around me and finding queer, non-binary, trans, Latin, POC, non-normative artists, performers, cyborgs and activists that are making this world a better and more inclusive place. 

a person wearing long gloves, a necklace and earrings raising their hands in the air

This project was shot over the course of four years. Was it always your intention to create a book? 
It all happened in a very organic way. I've always had a video camera with me since I was a kid, but the last four years, I used that camera to record all the experiences that I was part of. During these years, I've met the most incredible and interesting people that I've known in my entire life. In this process, I've generated more than 100 hours of footage with these unique people at parties, collaborating with amazing artists or even just going on dates with them. 

Last year when everything stopped for me and my work, I found the time to re-watch all this footage, and I started capturing stills of those details, precise moments and places. Some of them were significant, others just funny, erotic or moving. I realised that I needed to do something with them. 

In the process of seeing all the people and experiences that I loved, I realised how inspired I've been by them. I decided to make this book so it can inspire more people in the same way.

two people wearing underwear and nothing on top covered in glitter

The book features everything from trans men injecting testosterone, to raves, to intimate sex scenes. Were there boundaries involved in the project? 
WARP has been a project in which I let myself embrace the freedom of working without limits and conditions. What people will see in the book are real experiences and real people that I've met on this journey. I've connected with them in so many different ways, and I allowed myself the freedom to experiment with the fantasies they inspired in me. 

Do you have a favourite image that you've taken from the series? 
It's really difficult to choose one image because each one reminds me of really special moments and unique memories that I will save in my heart forever.

two people, one in a sports bra, choker and visor hat, another with just their head in the frame

The title of the collection is WARP. Why? 
WARP is a distortion of some materials that relate to the way I process my feelings. The projects that I do are always connected to an emotion that I'm feeling at that moment. Making these kinds of personal projects always helps me to heal and to process my feelings. While selecting and organising the pictures of this book, I have recognised different moments, spaces, elements that reminded me of traumatic experiences. But I could distort them and transform them into something beautiful.

Identities are fluid, and queerness is ever-changing. How do you define that word: queer? 
For me, being queer means a point of view of the world in which I question everything that I have learned, how everything is organised and defined in this society and even my emotions. The idea of love, family, work etc. is not easy to define because the most interesting part of it is that it is fluid, and it's always changing.  

In my personal experience, identifying with other queer people has helped me to realise that a lot of things that I couldn't understand and accept about myself were totally valid. There is no stronger feeling than having a full community supporting all of those who feel the same way.

A limited run of 'WARP' by Leo Adef is available to pre-order on the artist's website here.

a topless man wearing a necklace, facing towards a lamp in front of him
a group of people turned away from the camera dancing naked
a person wearing jewellery sat in a dressing room with lights around the mirror

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