Woman Crush Wednesday: Joana Toro
By: Moth Dust
Marginalized cultures seem to be a theme throughout your work – from “I Am Hello Kitty," your photo essays in Colombia, to your newest project – “The Dressing Room." What inspired you to photograph such narratives and empower these particular voices?
Joana Toro: My family roots inspired me. I come from a modest peasant family. My "low" income parents worked very hard to give me education and better opportunities, so I get inspired by humble people like them. I felt very comfortable with minorities because my grandmother's style of life, full of beauty innocence and dignity, remains in me. The other reason is a story of bullying against me in my school days. I was just different to others girls. That experience made me more sensitive about marginalized cultures.
How did you encounter the local Latino gay club in “The Dressing Room?” How did you gain access?
JT: I just sated my curiosity for that small door with Roman columns behind the local gay club main entrance in Jackson Heights. It's always close, always calls me, every time that I cross that street. Finally, last year at the gay parade celebration, I saw some divas opened it and were going into it, so I just went into it too. I was just invisible. Nobody stopped me, and I found myself in the middle of mirrors and make up, surrounded by Trans women and Drag artists. Lastly I realized that the door was the entrance for artists only.
I gained access and permission for others days, going many times and showing my respect and genuine interest in their problems and daily life. They felt comfortable with me, and I felt comfortable with them. I just said my truth: "You are so beautiful for me that I just come here to admire your life taking pictures of you "
How does photographing “The Dressing Room” affect your lifestyle, due to your immersive style of documentary practice?
JT: I had to change my schedule due to the fact that Sundays and Mondays are busy days in the Jackson Heights local clubs. I used to ﬁnish my shooting sometimes at 4 or 6 am. They teach me a lot, for example, makeup tips, style, fashion and love; in brief, a Trans woman teaches you how to be a complete woman it is real.
I have new friends around me now. I ﬁnd myself on weekends with them sharing lunch, going to their homes sometimes, and of course I become sensitive around LGBT Latino communities' needs.
When you aren’t working on your personal projects, how do you make a living as a New York City documentary photographer?
JT: I have to be honest, I don't make a living as a documentary photographer in NYC. I have occasional assignments by media. In Colombia I was a photojournalist 24/7 in media for many years. I have been living in NYC for 5 years and here I knew the term "day job," so I have 2 of them where the money to pay bills comes from. Usually I shoot in kids parties and social events as well, and I work with pets (take-care) in upper Manhattan.
In what ways is the transgender & drag community that you photograph in “The Dressing Room” unique? How do you think they would be received in Colombia?
JT: LGBT Latino communities are vulnerable communities. They have special needs as immigrants: gender identity, migratory status, race, language, and high levels of discrimination. This imposed invisibility into the society has a result in this community and is a permanent state of fear and solitude. We don't have enough knowledge in the experiences that LGBT Latin immigrants have to face in the U.S.
Unfortunately, Colombia and many countries in Latin America are completely ignorant of the needs that LGBT communities have. In my country, for example, today in the news a congresswoman is applying morals of God to reject some new laws from the Ministry of Education to protect LGBT teens from the extreme bullying in schools. It is not a surprise that ignorant politicians talk about minorities without consideration. The worrying fact is that a lot of people in my country agree with this congresswoman of Santander.
It is a fact that many LGBT people come to the U.S running away from the intolerance and violence against their sexual condition. So in Colombia, a country of people without respect for the LGBT minority, this series of pictures could be an immoral piece.
Musée Magazine: How would you describe your creative process in one word?
MM: If you could teach one, one-hour class on anything, what would it be?
JT: Crafts using hands to express creativity.
MM: What was the last book you read or ﬁlm you saw that inspired you?
JT: Unguided Tour Book by Sylvia Plachy and Diagram of the Heart by Glenna Gordon.
MM: What is the most played song in your iTunes Library?
JT: Plástico, Rubén Blades; I love Salsa mostly, and all kinds of music.
MM: How do you take your coffee?
JT: Soy cream and 1 sugar.
To view more of Joana's work, visit: