At first glance there is nothing remarkable about these photographs of young Brazilian girls. They are, checking their make-up or twirling their skirts, their pose perhaps a little self conscious, their clothes the familiar random assortment of Western colour and style to be seen on the streets of their country. Except these moments, essentially concerned with little more then merely being “female”, are rarities in their lives of these girls: these girls spend most of their time being boys. If you are young, female and alone on the streets of Brazil’s poorest districts, it is frequently safer to disguise yourself as a member of the opposite sex in order to avoid the ever-present threat of sexual abuse. It also makes a certain warped and simple sense: The harsh, impoverished environment that makes up their world offers little opportunity to delight in being a girl, to enjoy dressing up and wearing make up. Why celebrate being a women when it only invites violence and distress? Why bother taking pride in one’s identity at all when no one cares whether you live or die?
Photographer Leticia Valverdes – who grew up in Brazil – took something of a risk when she asked the street girls, on the cusp of adolescence, to relent and recognise their unfurling sexuality, giving them clothes and a mirror. Even if doing so she also provided them with a vital hot-wire to their own identity.
The resulting pictures are as much to do with discovery as they are with freedom; as much concerned with notions of looking at oneself as being looked at; and ultimately, of course, explicitly bound up in what it means to be female itself.