Intimate portraits of LGBTQ youth living deep in the Amazon rainforest

Daniel Jacques Lyons wanted to photograph the lives of marginalized youth in a remote Brazilian region

While having dinner at a restaurant in Carreiro, a small town deep in the Amazon rainforest, Daniel Jack Lyons is unexpectedly approached by Wendell, a local drag queen performer.

Two days ago, the North American photographer met with young community leaders in the hope that some might participate in a new project exploring the lives of marginalized youth in a remote Brazilian region. The news spread fast.

“He walked up to me and said, ‘You’re the photographer, I’m a drag queen, you’re going to photograph me on Thursday,'” Lyons recalled in a phone interview.

The pair found each other, and the resulting portrait — Wendell staring nonchalantly at the camera with a lit match in his mouth — became a featured image in Lyons’ new coming-of-age series, “Like a River.” But as a photographer and trained in anthropology, Lyons is more interested in the human stories behind his photographs.

“Wendall works as a drag queen, but she also runs her mother’s small business selling barbecue (grilled meat) at night at the market,” she said. “She’s very sick, and he’s taken over the business. So it’s a very important thing: He doesn’t want to do it. pull and (if there is any discrimination) adversely affect the business on which they depend for survival.

“So, as a way to overcompensate, she became this ‘mother’ of non-binary, transgender and gay people in the city,” Lyons added, adding that Wendell opened her home to struggling youth and helped transgender people access hormone therapy. In the nearby town of Manas.

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About half of those targeted in Lyons’ new book identify as transgender, non-binary or “gay in some way,” the photographer said. Credit: (2022/Loose Knots Like a River)

Lyons spent eight weeks in Garrero and the nearby Tubana River, photographing dozens of young people for a series that is currently running. At the exhibition At the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival in France. Half of their participants A follow-up book The photographer, who identifies as gay, said that people are transgender, non-binary or “gay in some way”.

Their stories include accounts of turbulent gender transitions and family friction. A man who spoke to Lyons for the project was estranged from his son after being rejected by his wife and parents after coming out as transgender. The photos were taken against a backdrop of social stigma in a country where homophobic hate crimes are on the rise and LGBTQ rights are under threat (Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro once told Playboy magazine that he “can’t love a gay child”. He also announced his disapproval of the country’s same-sex marriage laws).

However, the dominant sense of Leone’s images is one of resilience.

“Everybody I’ve worked with has undoubtedly had issues,” he said. “But discrimination seems to be implicitly understood. It’s underwhelming, it’s there, but as I became friends with people, there were a lot of positive conversations.

“There was a (sense of) tenacity — that they could walk around this city and celebrate regardless of what people thought.”

Cross-section markings

Based on a Brazilian poem of the same name, “Like a River” depicts not only the region’s LGBTQ communities, but other groups that “live on the margins,” as Leones puts it. His intimate images capture teenagers involved in art and music subcultures, as well as tribal youth with complex “intersectional identities.”

The photographer pointed his lens at young activists for the land, environmental threats being a constant concern among his supporters. Since the launch of the project in 2019, fears of illegal mining and deforestation in Garrero have grown significantly, he said.

Lyons points his lens to the region’s ecosystem, which he says is increasingly under threat. (2022/Loose Limbs Like a River)

“Obviously there’s a lot of discrimination against gay people, but I think the biggest threat to people is that Bolsonaro has created a wild west in the Amazon. There’s a lot of fear of illegal loggers and miners entering a community,” he added. Referring to recent reports of miners raiding tribal villages in hunt for gold and other resources.

Lyons, who has produced series about marginalized youth in Mozambique and Ukraine, treats portraiture as an act of collaboration and her models as friends.

The photographer focuses on building relationships before picking up the camera. It usually doesn’t catch people on the day they meet and tell collaborators where and how the shoot takes place, including what they wear and how they pose.

“It’s not traditional photojournalism, where you go in and take pictures and leave,” explained Lyons, who said he was in touch with many of the people featured in “Like a River.”

“It’s so much more than that. I wanted to focus on engaging with people and really enjoying the intimate moments they shared with me.”

“Like a River” is on display Photo Festival Rencontres d’Arles Until August 28, 2022. A Thread of the series, published by Loose Joints, is available now.

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