A documentary shows how photography has united the transgender community in Argentina and allowed them to proclaim their identity. Director Quentin Worthington sought out the guardians of these liberating and painful memories.
Intimate moments recorded in private spaces that nurture individual freedom, away from prying eyes and amid friendly, joyful excitement: these clandestine photographs were taken by transgender people whenever they felt free to be themselves. In the 1980s, being transgender was illegal in Argentina. Such gender identity made you marginalized and vulnerable to police persecution in a country which had gone from a dictatorship to a regime that suffered its consequences.
In this context, photography was a bulwark against segregation. It not only allowed people to assert themselves through images, but also to commemorate members of a fragile community. Many had died as victims of assassinations, suicides, the AIDS epidemic, and illnesses linked to inadequate treatment resulting from their exclusion from the social welfare system. Photography bears witness to their existence across decades—some images going as far back as the 1910s!
The task of memory
Several trans women from the community decided to form a collective, the Archivo de la Memoria Trans Argentina, in order to preserve these photographs and make sure they are never forgotten. “When I discovered this archive project, I became passionate about the subject,” says Quentin Worthington, who embarked on making this documentary as another archive for the community. “Photography has a lot of power. It allowed them to come together, to assert themselves, and to remember.”
“These photographs are all the more important that they often help to identify a missing person and tell their life story under their true identity. Many refused to be buried and remembered by their birth name, and these photographs offer a way to respect their memory,” explains Quentin Worthington. This is why it is so important to meticulously preserve these images. To that end, the collective enlisted image professionals who have taught them how to use scanners, how to handle the photographs with gloves, and how to file them. As a result, they are becoming autonomous in protecting and promoting their own archives.
It is touching to see the difference between the photographs taken in Argentina behind a bedroom doors and those taken by a handful of exiles in the United States or Europe who enjoyed greater freedom. We can see the latter posing in front of Notre Dame de Paris wearing dresses and high heels or freely sunbathing on a beach in Italy. Such photographs fed the dreams of the community remaining in Argentina and strengthened their resolve and their struggle.
Thanks to this documentary and the effort undertaken to preserve the photographs, the members of the collective have been invited to many events, for example at the Reina Sofia in Madrid and, more recently, at a film festival in Paris. They jump at every opportunity to speak in public, to learn to tell their story, and to raise public awareness about their struggle. This is a first step towards what one of them calls “historical reparation.”
By Coline Olsina & Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
The Facebook page of the collective : https://www.facebook.com/archivotransarg/