I discovered Pablo Sombrero’s work at a so-called ‘posporno’ event: an artistic movement that tries to revolutionize the concept of porn through a feminist and rebellious perspective. His work got me wondering about his views on society in general and the human body in particular, so I sat down with him to have a chat about these topics.
One model is gay, the other one is deaf, yet another one has a father that tells him/her that he/she is a failure. I always try to create an environment of trust and respect. Respect among all. If you want to be naked, on top of a bike with this weird hat on: it’s all good. And why couldn’t I just be a happy heterosexual guy who dresses up as a girl in his photos? What do you care: be free.
How did you discover your particular style of photography?
I started photographing when I was seventeen years old, and my mom gave me a camera that she had found on the streets. From then on I have been refining my eye for composition on a daily basis. During my study, I started thinking differently about what you can create with photos. One of my teachers basically bombarded me with works of photography masters, like Robert Mapplethorpe and Jan Saudek. These works gave me a whole new perspective as well as the freedom to experiment and to create the images that I had in mind. Natural light has fascinated me from the moment I realized that it could play such a huge role in a photo. Not only does it change the image itself but also the atmosphere thereof that will get your message across. You see a photo, it moves you and allows you to create your story: quite the opposite of a song for example, which most of the time can be taken literally. This is why for me, photography is the best way to create consciousness. You will see a part of yourself reflected in my work.
Yes, your use of light is very typical in your work.
I just allow the natural light to come in through the windows in my apartment.
Amazing, so you create your work here? I thought your studio was located in a huge warehouse.
That’s what everybody thinks. It’s the impression the photo gives. But actually, it’s all created here in this room. The walls have been painted by a friend and I found the carpet on the streets. Someone threw it out and I thought it would be nice to use. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
So, basically you found your life on the streets, first the camera and then the scenery.
Yes the streets made me *laughs*.
And who are your models?
They’re friends, people that I know or people who call me. Some of them give me the freedom to do whatever I want with their bodies to create the image that I have in mind, which I really enjoy. For me it’s important to first share a mate (drink) or a smoke, like we’re doing right now. I usually don’t even get my camera out during the first hour or so. People tend to tell me all about their life experiences, the beautiful and the ugly, which – I have learned – is actually crucial for me. It’s almost like magic: We talk for an hour, and then that story suddenly appears in the photo.
Can you give an example of what it is that attracts you in a model?
I once went to a curator that asked me the same question. You know that feeling when you see a dead pigeon in the street? An awful and disgusting image, yet at the same time you can’t take your eyes off of it. That’s what I love about pictures. Basically I don’t give a shit if you’re blond, a Belieber or an Indian. I place my models with all their differences in scenarios that are somewhat awkward. If you would see that scene play itself out in the streets it would probably make you feel uncomfortable, but in my photos, that awkwardness transforms into beauty. It isn’t “nice” or “cute”, but glorious.
Can you tell me something about your role in your photos?
Well, looking at my photos, I discover certain themes in certain periods in hindsight. For example, while living with my ex-girlfriend I didn’t take as many nudes and didn’t often play a role in my own photos. After we broke up, I basically started doing whatever I wanted in my work. And six months later, I realized that I was taking loads of photos with me dressing up as a girl. I don’t do that in my sexual nor my everyday life: but in my photos I always tend to become a submissive girl dominated or taught by the other model. That’s when it hit me that I’ve always been romantically involved with stronger women than me.
So your work is basically like a mirror. Do you find that confronting?
My work allows me to do things that I wouldn’t do in normal life. I will kiss with another man if it serves the picture, even though I have never kissed a guy in my life before, ever. When I was an 18 year old virgin, my dad told me that it was okay if I wanted to bring home a boy, but other students bullied me. In Argentina machismo is still omnipresent. I find it basically just a lack of respect: an unwillingness to understand each other. And for me personally, respect is vital not only in my work, but in life in general.
Do you feel the need to address this machismo culture and lack of respect it represents for you in your photos? By dressing up as a girl for example?
There are social issues that I always showcase in my photos like feminism, machismo, violence, abuse of power (father-kid situations but also in society) These topics intrigue me a lot, mostly because they’re such a big part of society, which is why they also turn up in my work. I try to compose these situations of an unequal balance of power in my pictures, without specifically zooming in on them. Like I said, respect is really important to me. I mean one model is gay, the other one is deaf, yet another one has a father that tells him/her that he/she is a failure. So I always try to create an environment of trust and respect. Respect among all. If you want to be naked, on top of a bike with this weird hat on: it’s all good. And why couldn’t I just be a happy heterosexual guy who dresses up as a girl in his photos? What do you care: be free. And if you want to cover up your body, that’s okay too. I’ll modify it and build around you.
Cool! It’s like your own little experiment room, where people can be free and be whoever they want.
Yes. I think hatred is a modern-day “pest” of our world. If, for example, I like girls, why can’t I be happy dressing up as one as well? All these things that divide us: football matches, politics, religions or interests, they shouldn’t matter in our daily life. Just the fact that you are a human being, should be enough to earn you the respect that you deserve.
Ps. Did you see a mistake? Let us know in the comments or drop a message through social media. Thank you!