Andréa De Mayo & Al Capone, 1997
São Paulo, SP, 1970
Claudia holds a bachelor's and master's degree in Visual Arts from ECA-USP and was a photo reporter for newspapers in Brazil and Spain, winning several awards throughout her career. In the 90s, she developed a deep interest in auto biographical and documentary photography. The daily journeys through fashion, nightlife and the LGBT+ community, made her internationally recognized, having images published in several books and magazines, such as Vogue and Elle. Claudia's work is part of the permanent collection of Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo. She is currently represented by Lona Gallery.
interview by Igor Furtado, published on 27/08/2020
Natasha Dhumont, 1999
Claudia Wonder, 2004
Can you tell us a little about your childhood and your first contacts with the arts?
I was born on the edge of the East Zone of São Paulo and had a happy and sad childhood at the same time. My family was poor, but I attended a good public school. I suffered a lot of bullying there for looking like a boy, but on the street where I played with my friends I had great times. My mother was a kind of community leader and although very religious, she wasn't conservative, taughting me and my three sisters to be feminists and independent from a very young age. She was part of Liberation Theology, a movement linked to the progressive Catholic church in the 1980s. It was in these meetings that I started to be interested in art, theater and poetry; from the readings that the nuns gave to us. Photography only emerged more strongly after adolescence, when I entered college.
When did you start going out at night? Did that also influence your interest in photography?
I've always liked to go out dancing in my spare time, especially when I started to go with my older sisters to the LGBT+ nightclubs. At the first time I was 17, the same age I left home and went to live alone, after that it never stopped. It was about two years after the end of the military dictatorship, in 1987, but until then I did not photograph. In fact, at that time it was not very common for people to do it, especially in lesbian clubs, since it was all kind of hidden. Soon after, I started to study fine arts and to work in a mall. A friend sold me a Pentax and taught me the basics. It was with this very manual camera that I started shooting. When my interest became greater, I started practicing at night, because I worked and studied during the day, so I didn't had much time to train. I also took a course to learn how to develop. I built an improvised laboratory in the apartment I shared with a friend, where I managed to develop the images in black and white. I still have this first camera and copies of the negatives from that time.
Photographs published in the column Noite Ilustrada of the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, between 1992 and 2005.
What was the Noite Ilustrada column and how was your work there?
Noite Ilustrada was inspired by another column from the newspaper The Village Voice. I think in São Paulo and in Brazil, it was the first to portray the underground nightlife. It was published every week in one of the biggest newspapers of the country, Folha de São Paulo. A friend of mine worked with Erika Palomino and told me that nobody wanted to photograph for her new column, since it was at dawn and focused on the LGBT+ scene. He knew that I had been photographing the nightlife for over a year and knew everyone, so he introduced me to her. At first I received nothing, just two rolls of film. I didn't even had a flash yet, so I usually called who I was shooting for a brighter location, the bar in front of the club or something like that. In 1992, after a year working this way, a job vacancy as a photographer appeared and I was officially hired. I always had an agenda, going to the clubs that were more massive at the time; Sra. Krawitz, Samantha Santa, A Lôca, later on Hell's. I also photographed the first raves a lot, as soon as they started. I stayed there for seven years and even after leaving the office, I continued to make pictures for the column until its end in 2006.
What is the most unusual story that happened to you over the years photographing the nightlife of São Paulo?
That was when I was shooting a fashion editorial for Vogue Brasil in downtown São Paulo. The locations were Amaral Gurgel and Prohibidu’s Club owned by Andréa de Mayo. It was like a documentary of two women in the most interesting places with real people, famous nightlife personalities. When we arrived in the nightclub I heard a noise, but I never imagined it was gunshots. I saw a man covered in blood running towards me and everyone started running aswell; model, fashion producer. Later Andréa told me that he was the abusive boyfriend of a travesti and that she had defended herself that way. "It was him or her," she said. But he didn't die, it was just a "warning".
Sylvetty Montilla hosting at Prohibidu's Nightclub, owned by Andréa de Mayo, 1996
Did you feel responsible for the way that your portraits could possibly influence the collective imaginary?
I was very young, photographing my world, my friends. I was not aware of the possibility of transforming anything. The only thing I thought was that I was managing to do two things I loved at the same time, photographing and going out dancing. I was always very shy, but also curious, so photographing brought me closer to people. My approach in the nightclubs was always careful. I never wanted to put anyone in an uncomfortable situation, especially because I was aware of the sensationalist way we had always been represented. Today I still don’t have much pretension that my images will leave a legacy and send a message in the future. If they reveal at least a little of the diversity of bodies and sexual orientations that exists in Brazil and that this brings recognition, respect and security to the LGBTI+ population, I'm already happy.
What are the biggest challenges you faced during your career?
Photography in Brazil has always been dominated by men, there are very few women. So we always have to prove something; That we can handle everything, that we really know classic photographic techniques; even if we are trying to reverse them. I think that as in other professions, women have to prove that they know better, which is very annoying. Being a lesbian and photographing non-conforming genders and sexualities made me suffer a lot of discrimination in so-called 'intellectualized' places like Folha de São Paulo and made me pejoratively famous in the fashion scene as a trash photographer. Having to listen to “you don't like men” and other misogynistic and homophobic jokes is very unpleasant and sad. It's very discouraging to deal with these prejudices everyday.
Bianca Soares at my house, 2005
Roberta Mattos at Vanessa's house, 2002
Katia Miranda at Columbia Club, 1993
What do you think about the preservation of the brazilian LGBT+ community's memory today, especially regarding the archiving of your work?
Today there is a lot of regression. We have a government that preaches to end gender ideology, without even having arguments, instead of ending misery, lack of access to education, health, etc. Life is shaped in favor of white and wealthy cis/heterosexuals, so all the policies for recognizing and preserving the memory of vulnerable communities fall short. In Brazil, a deeper cataloging of the work of photographers is almost nonexistent and the few remaining collections are precarious or are transitioning to digital, such as the Pinacoteca. A good part of the physical version of my work is in the newspaper I've worked for, in a large archive they have. The rest of the negatives I keep with me at home, but not in the most ideal conditions possible, since I would never have the money for it.
Why you transitioned to fashion and advertising? What advice would you give to those who are starting to photograph?
I went into fashion photography with the intention of learning more. I wanted to understand studio lighting and produce more precise portraits. Later as a result, I went to advertising to make money and be able to do my personal work again, in parallel. Today, I dedicate most of my time to authorial photography and also to my master's degree in Visual Arts at USP. I think for those who are starting, the important thing is perseverance and resilience. Always photograph what you believe in and are a part of.
Roberta Bell at Hell's Club, 1998
Beto Jamal at home, 2002
Laura de Vison at Columbia Club, 2000
Cristal at Chá Viaduct, 1997
Marcia Pantera and Johnny Luxo at the Alexandre Herchcovitch's runway show, 2002