Maravilla del Mundo

A childhood fascination with maps took American photographer, Thomas Locke Hobbs, to discover Iquitos, the isolated city in the Peruvian Amazon.

© Thomas Locke Hobbs, from the series, Maravilla del Mundo

Thomas Locke Hobbs holds a BA in Economics from Harvard University. He trained as a photographer at the Talleres de Estética Fotográfica with Eduardo Gil, and took classes with Alberto Goldenstein and Guillermo Ueno in Buenos Aires, Argentina, between 2009 and 2011. In 2015, he received an MFA in photography from Arizona State University. Thomas has exhibited his work in Argentina, England, Peru and the United States.

Can you talk about your transition from economics to photography?

I was always very interested in photography, both as a viewer and hobbyist. I was vaguely aware that there was this thing called Art School, but for a long time it never occurred to me that photography was an activity that I could take seriously as a practitioner.

I moved to Argentina in 2008 and lived there for four years. I started taking classes at the Centro Cultural Rojas and then private classes known as talleres. I owe a lot to my teachers, Nacho Iasparra, Eduardo Gil, and Alberto Goldenstein, for encouraging me and providing me with informed critical feedback. Eventually I returned to the US to pursue an MFA, which I completed last year.

How did you decide to focus on the Peruvian city, Iquitos, and more specifically the LGBT community there?

As a child I had a fascination with maps and I was aware of this city, Iquitos, that was isolated in the Amazon and accessible only by boat or plane, like an island. I traveled there in 2011 and was immediately struck by the openness and visibility of the LGBT community. That first year I started making portraits and I felt like I was on to something and so I decided to return. One trip led to another and I’ve now been going to Iquitos annually since 2011.

© Thomas Locke Hobbs, from the series, Maravilla del Mundo

You worked on this project for six years. Can you talk about your access into the lives of the young gay men photographed? How long were your visits to Iquitos?

I’ve stayed for one or two months each time I visit. All my portraits are set-up. I’ll typically spend a few hours with the subject or subjects, working and collaborating with them to make an image. Initially I would approach people in queer social spaces and explain my project and my desire to photograph them. I have often stayed in touch with the guys I’ve photographed and in many cases taken their picture repeatedly across the years. I hope to continue this in the future.

© Thomas Locke Hobbs, from the series, Maravilla del Mundo

In the series, Maravilla del Mundo, there is a self-portrait you took with one of the subjects (seen above). What motivated you to include yourself in a portrait within the series?

I’ve always been very aware of my status as an outsider. The photos are about both my desire to look and the subjects’ desire to be seen, to be visible. This dialog is present, I think, in a lot of the portraits, but I wanted to make this explicit. Including myself is a way of acknowledging my presence there.

Where did the name of the project come from?

Maravilla del Mundo means Wonder of the World in Spanish. In 2013 there was a global online campaign to elect the new seven wonders of the world. The municipal government of Iquitos put a lot of effort into promoting this campaign and encouraging people to vote. When the Amazon River was chosen, the people of Iquitos celebrated and a metal plaque was erected to mark the occasion.

I was struck by the contrast between the imagined ideal of a “wonder of the world” and the reality of a city that is poor and densely populated. It’s a far cry from the typically imagined picture of the exotic, edenic rainforest that is used to promote tourism and generate a sense of local pride. I do believe there is wonder in this place but it is not the image that one expects to see or that is promoted officially.

© Thomas Locke Hobbs, from the series, Maravilla del Mundo

You have worked in Latin America for quite some time. What inspires you in the continent?

The intersections of history, culture, landscape and identity are fascinating and rich. I have a long list of projects and ideas I hope to one day work on.

To learn more about this project, visit Thomas' PHmuseum profile

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