Intimate portraits of LGBTQ youths dwelling deep within the Amazon rainforest

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

Whereas consuming dinner at a restaurant in Careiro, a small city deep within the Amazon rainforest, Daniel Jack Lyons was unexpectedly approached by an area drag performer, Wendell.

Two days earlier, the American photographer had met with younger group leaders within the hope that some would possibly take part in a brand new challenge exploring the lives of marginalized youths within the distant Brazilian area. Phrase had rapidly unfold.

“He got here as much as me and stated: ‘You are the photographer, I am a drag queen and also you’re photographing me on Thursday,'” Lyons recalled in a cellphone interview.

The pair met up, and the ensuing portrait — Wendell staring defiantly on the digicam with a lit matchstick in his mouth — went on to turn into the standout picture in Lyons’ dreamy new coming-of-age collection, “Like a River.” However as each a photographer and a educated anthropologist, Lyons seems extra within the human tales behind his photos.

“Wendell does drag performances, however he is additionally caring for his mom’s small enterprise promoting churrasco (grilled meat) at evening available in the market,” he stated. “She’s fairly in poor health, and he is taken over. So, it is a very delicate factor: He would not wish to do drag and (have any ensuing discrimination) negatively have an effect on the enterprise, which is what they’re surviving on.

“In order a method of overcompensating, he has turn into this ‘mom’ to all of the non-binary, trans and queer children within the city,” Lyons added, recounting how Wendell opened his house to struggling teenagers and has helped transgender youths entry hormone remedy within the nearest metropolis, Manaus.

About half of the themes in Lyons’ new e-book determine as trans, non-binary or “queer not directly,” stated the photographer. Credit score: Like a River 2022/Unfastened Joints

Basing himself in Careiro and the close by Tupana River for as much as eight weeks at a time, Lyons went on to {photograph} dozens extra younger individuals for the collection, which is at present on show on the Rencontres d’Arles picture competition in France. About half of the themes in his accompanying e-book are trans, non-binary or “queer not directly,” stated the photographer, who himself identifies as queer.
Their tales include tales of turbulent gender transitions and household friction. One individual Lyons spoke to for the challenge had been disowned by their spouse and fogeys, and separated from their son, after popping out as trans. The images had been additionally taken in opposition to the backdrop of social stigmas in a rustic the place homophobic hate crimes are on the rise and LGBTQ rights seem more and more below menace (Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who as soon as informed Playboy journal that he can be “incapable of loving a gay son,” has voiced disapproval of the nation’s same-sex marriage legal guidelines).

But, the overriding spirit of Lyons’ photos is considered one of resilience.

“There was a battle amongst all people I labored with, for positive,” he stated. “However it’s nearly like discrimination is simply understood in a tacit method. It is the undercurrent, it is there, however as I used to be changing into buddies with individuals, there was a variety of constructive dialogue.

“There was a (sense of) perseverance — celebrating the truth that they will stroll round this city and never care what individuals suppose.”

Intersectional identities

Borrowing its title from a Brazilian poem of the identical title, “Like A River” depicts not solely the area’s LGBTQ communities, however different teams “dwelling on the margins,” as Lyons places it. His intimate photos seize teenagers concerned in arts and music subcultures, in addition to indigenous youths with advanced “intersectional identities.”

The photographer additionally turned his lens on younger land activists, with environmental threats serving as a recurring concern amongst his topics. He stated that concern of unlawful mining and deforestation has noticeably grown in Careiro since he started the challenge in 2019.

Lyons also turned his lens on the region's environment, which he says is increasingly under threat.

Lyons additionally turned his lens on the area’s atmosphere, which he says is more and more below menace. Credit score: Like a River 2022/Unfastened Joints

“There’s clearly a variety of discrimination based mostly on being queer, however I believe the larger menace for individuals is that Bolsonaro has created this wild west within the Amazon. There’s a variety of concern that loggers and unlawful miners can come right into a group,” he added, referring to current studies of miners attacking indigenous villages within the hunt for gold and different sources.

Lyons, who has beforehand produced collection on marginalized youths in Mozambique and Ukraine, treats portraiture as an act of collaboration — and his topics as buddies.

The photographer focuses on constructing relationships earlier than selecting up his digicam. He normally will not seize individuals the day he meets them — and he provides collaborators energy over the place and the way the shoots happen, together with what they put on and the way they pose.

“It is not conventional photojournalism the place you swoop in, take photos and swoop out,” defined Lyons, who stated he’s nonetheless in contact with most of the individuals featured in “Like a River.”

“It was way more than that. I wished to deal with participating with individuals and actually cherishing these intimate moments they shared with me.”

“Like a River” is on present on the Rencontres d’Arles picture competition till Aug. 28, 2022. A e-book of the collection, printed by Unfastened Joints, is out there now.