Trans(ition) – Interview with Reme Campos

Marianne Stenger
28th May 2021

Gender identity can be complicated and doesn’t always fit into easy categories. For the past four years, portrait photographer Reme Campos has been photographing a small group of teenagers who identify as transgender.

Together, they make collaborative portraits as a way of sharing their individual stories, and this process has become a part of their personal journeys with gender identity. Although some of her subjects choose to medically transition, others don’t. Some of them identify as a man or a woman, while others identify as non-binary and prefer not to conform to any label.

The quiet and understated portrait of Elio and Luci, who Campos photographed in Queens Park, London, was shortlisted for The National Portrait Gallery, Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. It was also shortlisted for the Portrait of Britain 2019 Photography Awards.

Through her series of images and the text that accompanies them, Campos aims to explore the nuances of body language to reveal inner psychology. When the coronavirus lockdown restrictions first came into place in early 2020, she continued to capture portraits for her series over Zoom.

Images © Reme Campos

Throughout her photography career so far, Campos has also photographed the likes of Doris Lessing and Tony Benn, and these portraits are now part of the National Portrait Gallery’s collection.

“Each person I photograph is totally different,” she says. “It’s about capturing a part of their soul. But, in order to do so, I have to give a part of mine too. So I think there is always an emotional exchange when I take a photo. I don't really spend much time thinking about the idea of creating powerful portraits. It just happens.”

We had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about how the Trans(ition) series initially got started, as well as her creative process and photography in general.

Images © Reme Campos

How did you initially get involved in photography?

I was born in Madrid. I initially just came to London to study for a year, but ended up living here. That’s when my photography started. In the beginning, I didn’t speak much English, so I think taking photographs was a way to transmit and understand the language and the people.

Could you tell us a bit about your series, Trans(ition)? How did it get started?

This series started with my Brexit project Youth, what will happen to us, which I began over three years ago, after the referendum. As an non-British European and long term UK resident, I was concerned about the consequences of Britain leaving the European Union.

I started thinking about all the young adults in the UK and the rest of Europe. Many of them still didn’t have the right to vote, and yet their lives would be unequivocally affected by Brexit. So I started looking for young adults in Spain and the UK to photograph. I asked my niece Silvia if she wanted to be part of the project and she also asked her friend.

So initially, I photographed Elio and Luci separately and asked them a few questions about Brexit and how they felt about it all. Then, upon discovering that they were a couple, I photographed them together because I thought they had such a good connection.

It was after this that I discovered Elio was transgender. From this point onwards it just kind of snowballed and Elio introduced me to quite a lot of his friends who were also transitioning. So that’s how this project started.

Images © Reme Campos

Could you tell us about your creative process and how you approached each sitting?

I always ask my sitters to tell me something about themselves, or about how they feel. Then I usually present this text along with the image.

In terms of setting up the shoot, I try not to tell my subject what to do. I just kind of wait for them to do whatever feels most natural to them. I explore their body language and prefer to use de-saturated colours. In general, I like my images to be subtle and understated. 

So that's why there is a quietness in my approach; I don’t talk much. Instead, I try to photograph their behaviour. There’s also always an emotional exchange when I take a portrait. Sometimes I forget I’m even behind a camera, and it’s like I am just seeing the person with my naked eye.

Is there anything you do to help your subjects feel at ease before photographing them? Do you try to get to know them beforehand, for instance?

Actually, I prefer not to know much about my sitter before I photograph them. For these images, rather than directing the subjects, I use the portrait sittings as a tool to inform each sitter’s personal journey as they transition.

I try to encourage the teenagers to reflect upon how they wish to present themselves to the world. This is the first step. I also ask my sitter to write or record something about their life, experiences, and feelings, as I think this is a way for them to express themselves a bit more.

Images © Reme Campos

What have you enjoyed most about working on this project?

The thing I’ve enjoyed most about working on this project, and really all of my work over the years, is that I have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful and interesting people. I probably would never have met most of them had I not decided to photograph them. They allowed me into their lives and I am very grateful for that opportunity.

Images © Reme Campos

Biography:

Reme Campos is a portrait photographer based in London. You can find out more about her work and see more images from her series Trans(ition) on her website or by following her on Instagram @RemeCampos

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