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In conversation with Leo Adef

“In a society that tends to make everything a product, I find it interesting how being different can challenge people’s ideas”

Leo Adef is a Barcelona-based, Buenos Aires-born photographer, videographer and director, shifting and re-adjusting our gazes within and towards our cultural environments one image at the time. For his self-published debut book WARP, the creative has tapped into the art of intimacy as a dedication to and portrayal of the most inspiring people he has met over the past couple of years. Intelligently flirting with the thin border between reality and fantasy, this is an hommage to the vulnerability as well as the resilience of the queer community. Fascinated by his dreamy and compelling visual collection, we had a chat with the visionaire to take a deeper glimpse behind WARP.

Hola, Leo! What sparked the idea behind your documentary book WARP? 

It all happened in a very organic way. I’ve always had a camera with me since I was a kid, but the last four or five years I used that camera to save all the experiences that I was living. For the first time in my life, these last four years I experienced what it means to be part of a queer community. In this community, I’ve met the most incredible and interesting people that I have known in my entire life. During this process I’ve generated more than 100 hours of footage with these unique people at parties, collaborating with amazing artists, or even just having dates with them.

Last year when everything stopped for me and my work I found the time to re-watch all this footage and I started capturing stills of those details, precise moments, stares and places. Some of them were very significant, others just funny, erotic or moving. I realized that I needed to do something with that.

In 200 pages, you have portrayed friends, lovers, muses, artists, places and fantasies – resulting in intimate, raw, yet sleek visuals. What is the common ground between them?

All these images portray moments and people that were somehow significant to me. Through all these people I’ve been able to experiment, be inspired, learn and evolve. Not just in my vision but also in exploring parts of myself. This book is not planned with a precise purpose, I haven’t produced any of these images thinking about the book. It is mostly as a diary, and like any other diary, it’s a collage of my own experiences.

You’ve previously photographed artists like Arca, Mykki Blanco and RebelBunnie. What has been your photographic journey leading to this point?

There is nothing more exciting than being able to collaborate with artists that I admire and who have inspired me for so long. I feel very grateful for having the opportunity of working with them. It was an incredible experience to see them perform in front of my camera and learn from them the same way I’ve learned from all the other people that gave me the possibility of portraying them.

This is the result of lots of years working and trying to find my voice, It is very special when after all these years you feel that your vision speaks in a similar way as the vision of other artists that you love. I hope this is the start of a long journey full of collaborations with many other artists, some of them I can’t even imagine yet.

In response to the constant questioning and seeking of identity – you’ve previously stated it is a path to be shared with like-minded people. Can WARP, therefore, be viewed as an homage to your personal community?

Definitely. I am so grateful for all the people that shared these years with me. I hope that as it happened to me, other people could get inspired by these amazing souls that I came across with.

Each one of them is so special and singular in its own way, and I think that that is what identity is about. Celebrating your uniqueness and your difference.

As a Barcelona-based artist from Argentina, what differences have you experienced between the Queer scenes here and there?

I came to Barcelona 8 years ago, things were very different from now. back in Buenos Aires, I didn’t have the tools and the community that I could find here, so it was in Barcelona where I could explore my identity and unlearn what I had been taught. I know, now that everything has changed and evolved, today there is a stronger community in Buenos Aires, and I am excited to see that all the forces that limited me are weaker now. There is still a lot of work to do there as well as here, but seeing all the work that is being done makes me feel optimistic about it.

You have been in the creative industry as a film director and photographer for over 8 years now. Reflecting on your journey as both artist and human, how does WARP relate to this evolution?

I feel that WARP is the materialization of this journey itself. I am proud to see that I could find a way of having in a book the highlights of all this evolution. In the process of selecting and editing this publication, I’ve been able to see how my work and the things I portray have been evolving, mutating and enriching throughout time. I cannot separate my work from my person, art has been always a tool for me. Not only to explore but also to heal. That is why I feel that what I do is always connected to who I am.

Your imagery revolves mainly around faces and bodies – whether bare, beat with make-up, glammed up or bondaged – how do you view bodies in relation to identity?

I find it very interesting how the people I portray use their image and their bodies to express themselves and to make a statement. In a society that tends to make everything a product I find it interesting how being different can challenge people’s ideas.

The way that people express and present themselves to the world challenging gender roles, fashion codes or whatever norm they choose to question is the first thing I see and what draws my attention. But it is when I go deeper, listen to their stories and get to know them, when I fall in love.

Your imagery often touches on themes of intimacy – do you view this as an important aspect of life?

Growing up with the constant feeling of being different made me find it difficult to generate real and intimate connections with people around me. That is why I really appreciate it when those people I portray open themselves up to me generating those moments of pure and precious intimacy. I find this intimacy something vital for capturing people’s essence. That is why I always seek this atmosphere. For me, intimacy means comfort, vulnerability and trust, intimacy means truth.

‘Safe’, your short documentary on the ballroom scene in Berlin, has been selected for the Toronto Documentary Film Festival earlier this year! Showing how dance can be used in a therapeutic and meditative way to convey a safe space for marginalized communities, what has this experience taught you?

‘Safe’ was a very moving project for me. It was shot last year during quarantine, when most of the safe spaces that we were used to were closed or forbidden. It was exciting to be able to fly to Berlin during that hard moment and get to know part of the ballroom scene in Berlin. Making this film motivated me to keep sharing the stories. The system in which we are submerged rejects everything that is outside the norm, so we need those spaces to be ourselves, to find more people like us, to share experiences, to organize against oppression, to not be afraid of being judged by the heteronormative world. In each city, town, no matter the size, there is this need of creating spaces for marginalized communities. As a member of one of those communities in Barcelona, I find it really important to keep working and taking care of the safe spaces so everyone can have a place to be themselves without fear.

Thank you so much for talking with me! 

Thank you for supporting this kind of project, it means a lot to me.

WARP is now available to purchase here!

Words by Brechtje Polman