As a teenager, Trevale was given her first new camera by her mother, and she subsequently took it everywhere, her schoolfriends populating her early experiments with the medium. When she began shooting, it was the likes of Viviane Sassen, Alec Soth and Gregory Halpern who set the benchmark – and this cross-pollination of fashion and documentary remains a cornerstone of her work today.
For her final project rounding off her MA fashion image course at Central Saint Martins, she found a creative collaborator in her grandmother, who still lives in Venezuela. She wanted it to be a project where “working with fashion felt personal and close to me”, and made it so through the lens of her grandmother, who “showed her love to me by making dresses for me as a child,” she explains.
In the past year or so, she has focused her energies on the dual optimism and hardship found among immigrants in her adoptive home of London, manifesting in projects such as Comadres and Pueblito Paisa, commissioned by Vogue Italia and British Vogue respectively.
“Having markets, hubs and spaces shut down for gentrification, many are having their homes and source of income taken away. By making these stories, we took into account all their hard work and bravery to celebrate them as the heroes they are.” By the time the shoot came around, news spread that the Latin Village market would avoid closure, and the success story ultimately imbued the work with new meaning: “The images still represent a form of protest but more of a victory and celebration.”
She left her home country in 2011 and has “lived as an immigrant” ever since, she says. For around nine of those years she has lived in the UK, and often finds herself “searching for home in faraway spaces”. It’s for this reason that, wherever her work is set, Trevale’s images often call back to her heritage in codified or explicit ways.
Members of London’s Latin American community appear in Comadres, proudly reviving and reinterpreting everything from queer folkloric figures to bandits and anti-heroines. It’s a triumphant series replete with symbolism, where codes are buried in tablecloths, harnesses, hand-painted candles and intricate hairstyles. Much of her work has been made in close collaboration with Venezuelan art director and stylist Daniela Benaim, the two having become comadres in their own sisterhood of shared understanding and ambition.
Trevale grew up in the “hectic” but “beautiful” capital of Venezuela, Caracas, and often visited the nearby beach town of Mamporal, whose influences can be found in her penchant for “the ocean” and “bare skin under the sun” in her images.
In Pueblito Paisa, Trevale photographed the traders and locals at the heart of the Latin Village market in Seven Sisters, north London. The market, also known as El Pueblito Paisa, has spent years embroiled in a fight for its continued existence, with campaigners warding off vulturous developers in scenes seen elsewhere in the city, from Brixton to Dalston.
“I like to believe that with my work I honour my culture, my roots, and my ancestors,” explains Venezuelan photographer Silvana Trevale. Even though her blend of fashion and documentary work shares the same ethos, her portfolio is surprisingly diverse. She has made on-the-fly photographs in natural and built environments; poised, carefully orchestrated shoots with elaborate fashions and sets; and intimate portraits that would have you believe there’s not another soul for miles around.
Trevale soon realised how clothing and styling could “communicate stories that transcend fashion itself”, no matter the geography. “As we started working together we began speaking about my great grandmother Cayetana and her incredible story. She was a black indigenous woman who had three children on her own, being made to serve her own family for years due to her skin colour,” she says. Her great grandmother eventually left for Caracas, her children in tow, in search of a better life. Those stories, passed down through her grandmother’s memories, informed a sobering yet beautifully made body of work.
She has also revisited her home country to create personal work, such as her series Venezuelan Youth, which was born out of her interest in the transition from youthful innocence to sudden maturity in a country facing “a social, political, and economic crisis,” she says. Yet the work also reinvigorated her emotional connection to her motherland: “By going back home and collaborating with these young Venezuelans full of hope, it makes me feel almost as if I never left, like a part of me is still home.”