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Marcela Ferri Talks The Power of Drag & Fighting For Personal Freedoms

There’s a power—and, inevitably, a risk—in going against the grain, and Marcela Ferri knows it all too well. A self-described unconventional child, she found a welcoming community within the LGBTQ nightclub culture of various places, and realized that through traveling, she could continually reignite her curiosity for different pockets of culture around the globe.

The idea of being fixed to a land always felt weird, and wealth to me means time and knowledge, so traveling and spending time amongst people from different cultures was always part of the plan even before I even knew about it,” she says. “I always wanted to see the world you know?”

One of these many trips landed Ferri in Los Angeles, where she photographed drag queens in West Hollywood and created moving GIFs of each performer. From her time with the queens, Ferri learned invaluable lessons—in power, fearlessness, and personal freedom. Now, she’s sharing those lessons (and images) with us. Plus, check below to get to know the artist behind the lens.

How did you first start out as a photographer?

I dreamt of being a film director from the age of 13, read early 90’s, back then MTV was a big thing and guys like Hype Williams and Chris Cunningham were the people I was constantly looking up to. Back then we didn’t have the privilege of an inbuilt 4k camera with apps we could link it to and get edit, grading and little post done all inside a mobile phone so we would have to do what we could with what we’ve had.

My first camera was an Olympus and then a Fuji instax, but mainly I was taking pictures of my friends, dogs and some bad hairstyle decisions. Then in 2002 I think, my mother gave me my first SLR camera, which I used to photograph bands and some other bits, I guess that’s when I can say that I officially started with photography.            

Do you exclusively shoot film, or do you shoot digital as well?

Just film, if the work is commissioned then I’ll have everything backed up in digital but, if not, I’ll leave the digital camera in the vault.

You mentioned that you are Brazilian and Italian, but are currently based in London. How do you think your multi-cultural upbringing influenced your work, if at all?

I believe that every person who has the chance of being in touch with different cultures is blessed as you get to know and see more than what your immediate geographic surrounding has to offer. My upbringing was a mix of Italian x Brazilian x Tenenbaum. Italian from my father’s side, Brazilian (mixed Portuguese with native Indian ascendance) and Tenenbaum as a result of all of it, which means emotional, way to smiley, some dancing skills, imagination with a weird preppy twist (insert dramatic telenovela SFX here).

I always wanted to see the world you know? The idea of being fixed to a land always felt weird, and wealth to me means time and knowledge, so traveling and spending time amongst people from different cultures was always part of the plan even before I even knew about it.

London is a very cosmopolitan place and every day I have the chance to learn more about people, my closest friends are American, Dutch, Nigerian, Saudi and, at the same time we have such distant origins, geographically speaking, we are wildly similar and we compliment each other through this multiverse of languages, traditions and cultural references, which is priceless. So yes it definitely influences me not just in photography but in the way I live my life and see the world.  

So we’re premiering one of your latest projects, a GIF series featuring drag queens in West Hollywood. What drew you to LA, and what made you to want to shoot drag performers? Could you talk about your connection or interest in drag/LGBTQ culture?

I was an unconventional child, let’s put it like that, raised in a sort of traditional way and, the beliefs and obligations that were established as what I should follow felt wrong. The kids in my school were all traveling to Miami and Bariloche to shop, carrying expensive bags and sometimes rushing to the hairstylist to get a blow-dry when they were upset… nothing against that, people must do what makes them happy but, that layout wasn’t my thing and it was kind of hard as the beat I was dancing to was fairly different.

When you have your feelings invalidated because people think you are wrong, just because it goes slightly outside of what society considers normal, reading: “Go to school, find a job, a husband, have kids, retire and die,” you will start creating this urge to find a group or place where you can belong to and be who you are, and the place where I found that was in nightclubs with the LGBTQ community.     

They have always supported me and let’s be honest, there’s nothing more badass than standing up for yourself fighting for your personal freedom, and using Drag as an example, putting on a wig and makeup, taking the train knowing they can be beaten up, knowing that they will probably face some sort of adversity, but doing it anyway because it’s what they love, because it’s a part of who they are and they are brave enough to not let fear, shame or whatever negative feeling stop them, this is power, this is something everyone should really look up to.

Amongst my travels I spent quite a bit of time in LA 10 years ago, since then I created a very special connection with the city. It’s been a while now that I chose the place to be where l sit for a month or so and focus on creating new work, meeting like-minded people and run away to the desert for a bit.

It was part of the plan this year to spend some time in West Hollywood shooting Drag performers. I’ll definitely go back and make a bolder coverage if everything runs according to plan.

What made you decide to create GIFs as opposed to still photos or video?

Making videos was never an option, and I also make a lot of stills but I wanted to make the performances pop more than just in a single image so having them portrayed in analogue 3D was the option, specially when involving movement.

I’ve done some work with other performers in London shooting black and white stills. It looks very dramatic with a Battleship Potemkin feel, which I really like, but it wouldn’t make sense in the set up of the work we are premiering here.

The type of camera and film will vary a lot depending on what I’m shooting, from an aesthetic and technical perspective.

What is your creative process like? Do you plan out concepts and potential shots ahead of time, or do you prefer to just wing it?

If I turn to you and say that I have a fairly pre-set creative process it would be a lie, it’s a mix of things. I always have a camera on me, can be the old Nikkormat I’ve been using for almost everything I shoot in 35mm, a single use one or a Mini Instax, it feels unnatural to me to not carry a camera.

If I’m traveling than I plan ahead the equipment and types of film with mini-briefs in mind, depending on the trip I will have some ideas and places I need to go, meaning some sort of a plan and also on the side there’s some R&D so I guess it varies really.

Where do you draw creative inspirations from?

Music plays a big part in my life (no pun intended), I still sit on my own paying attention in what comes out of my headphones at the same time I observe the light changes in my living room. I’m very sensitive to this kind of stimulus and sound somehow translates into images inside my head. If you think of artists like Kanye West, TV On The Radio and Anohni for example, their work is extremely visual. I’m not talking about music videos, but solely the music…

Seriously, pay attention on the piano in Kanye’s “Runaway” or when you hear Anohni’s voice live, that’s beauty! One of my dreams is to create with a musician a massive exhibition based on an album, with installations where you would be able to experience both mediums in sync, like a dance. Inspiration also comes from people I meet, the stories they tell me and kid’s books.

Do you have any other projects in the works for the rest of 2018? Anything exciting you could tell us about?

I’m writing and researching quite a bit for a book project I want to get done, also trips to Paris, NY and LA to carry on with the Drag work and other LGBTQ groups so yes, planning on keep myself constantly busy and if people have ideas or want to collaborate I’m very happy to listen.

Images courtesy of Marcela Ferri

Stay tuned to Milk for more cultural innovators. 

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