Dominican photographer Denisse Ariana Pérez wandered across several different mediums until she found photography after winning a camera at a college bazaar. “It was the first and only time I had ever won anything at a bazaar,” Denisse tells It’s Nice That. “That little shitty camera became my companion throughout that summer as I travelled through Europe, which I mostly spent stalking people and taking photos of them from afar.” Currently based in Copenhagen, Denisse produces incredibly tender photography, using the medium as a way to “create an intimate moment with another person, even if that moment only lasts a couple of minutes.”
“I’m on a quest to find beauty in the sometimes less obvious places,” Denisse says. “I like to use this medium to highlight the beauty of individuals, their communities and cultures, especially those who are marginalised.” But instead of straightforward portraits of individuals, perhaps highlighting their individual attributes or their physical features, Denisse takes another approach, one that tells us a little bit about the less obvious places where she finds beauty. In her photographs, people are rarely photographed alone, never separated from context. The beauty is in the interactions with others, human or not – whether its the roosters they hold, other men they pose with, the water they’re immersed in or the plants that obscure them. These interactions serve as geographical and cultural signposts, but they also add another layer of beauty that tells us much more about her subjects, one that only emerges through these entanglements.
“A lot of my work features men, in particular, young black men. I like the idea of portraying men through a sensitive lens, to show more sides to them, other than their physical strength or sex appeal,” she says, referring to the colonial socialisation of black men through sexuality as explored by Frantz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks. “I like to have men interact with one another, sometimes making them get out of their comfort zones, hoping that they can let go even if only for a moment,” she continues.
Denisse tells us about one of these series, Boys, Men and Cocks, where she observes a sort of “dance” in the interaction of men and roosters that’s reminiscent of Jonathas de Andrade’s O Peixe, the Brazilian filmmaker’s simulated ethnographic short. “I think that there is something very special about seeing a boy or a man interact with a rooster,” Denisse explains. “They are both quintessential symbols of masculinity and when they face one another, it can feel like watching a showdown that eventually turns into a dance.”
She narrates this little dance: it starts with a challenge of domination between the man and the rooster until one submits, followed by a moment where the man lets his guard down, where the two masculine symbols accept one another without resistance, until a return to rebellion where the battle re-ensues. “I find this exchange to be a fascinating metaphor of the masculine ego and its need to assert dominance. But also, it serves as a brief window into the tenderness that takes place when said ego is relinquished,” Denisse says.
Most recently, Denisse has completed the sequel for her Albinism, Albinism series in Uganda, a collaboration with the fashion brand Art Comes First that helped make the garments for the shoot, documenting the “realities faced by people living with albinism in another east African country.” Another ongoing project, deviating from the theme of masculinity but continuing with water and nature, sees Denisse “focusing on women as they create moments of intimacy with one another and with their environment” in Nordic landscapes. We can’t wait to see what other warm, tender moments Denisse will bring us with her future work.
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