How do you find your models and how do you convince them to be part of the project?
I find the meeting places, often in cafés where the youth of a town get together. I approach the men whose attitudes incarnate a spirit of freedom, those with whom I suspect there is a mutual willingness. I explain about my project to photograph them as they are, with their moder-nity. Knowing that they will be seen encourages them to take part in the experience. They believe that it’s important to show the world the battle they are waging to affirm their individuality within patriarchal societies, because, while they are not acknowledged in their own country, they may find some sort of consideration elsewhere.
Do you work completely alone and how do you find the places?
I work alone and I walk a lot! I look for places where I can isolate myself with my models, so that I can extract them from situations of social pressure, and be alone with them face to face. Only isolation can allow me to take these men as close to themselves as possible, so that they can let themselves go; it’s the condition necessary to achieve an unveiling.
How long do you work on one set?
In the time between when I meet my protagonists and when I take the shots, I develop a real friendship with each of them. I am a foreigner, passing through, without roots and without belonging to their cul-ture or religion. This position gives room for trust, the possibility to be true, to relate without taboos. The photographic act itself resembles a kind of performance, and I never know in advance what will come out of it, what will be born of this encounter. The portraits are always the result of a dialogue, of an ephemeral but deep tie be-tween us. What I’m interested in is their complexity, their fragility, their sensuality.
Read the full interview with Scarlett Coten in the Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2016 special edition of LFI, available from the LFI Shop.