Stunning Photos Follow Cuba’s Drag And Trans Stars From Day To Night

The series captures three performers whose routine days give way to glitzy nights.

When photographer David Tesinsky first heard about Malu, a transgender woman who has achieved somewhat of a celebrity status in her native Cuba, he instantly wanted to meet her.

Tesinsky, who hails from the Czech Republic, has always highlighted what he describes as “subcultural” groups in his work; he has previously documented homeless Parisians, youth activists in Iran and queer rights advocates in Belarus. He told The Huffington Post that when he finally made it to Cuba in January, he was immediately struck by Malu’s determination to live authentically, in spite of the political and social challenges the Cuban LGBTQ community continues to face.

Malu, who identifies as transgender, has achieved somewhat of a celebrity status in Cuba.
Malu, who identifies as transgender, has achieved somewhat of a celebrity status in Cuba.
David Tesinsky

A performer at a Sancti Spíritus theater, Malu is one of three subjects that Tesinsky captured for his “Before Night Falls” series. The others, Natasha and Alina, identify as gay men. Still, both challenge gender stereotypes in their own right, making a second living as drag performers in Havana nightclubs.

“I’m inspired by contrast,” Tesinsky told The Huffington Post. “That somebody could just be selling fruits and vegetables during the day for a living, and then can turn into a queen of the evening on stage at night,” he said. He was struck by what he describes as a lack of a distinctive “community” in the traditional sense as far as queer Cubans are concerned. “They keep it very low profile,” he said.

Tesinsky, who plans to visit Israel and Mongolia next, hopes his Cuba photographs will shed some light on how LGBTQ people are exploring gender and identity on the stage “in a country where these things haven’t been tolerated” at all until recently.

Check out “Before Night Falls” below, and view more of Tesinsky’s work here.

David Tesinsky
Abi, left, sells fruits and vegetables during the day.
David Tesinsky
At night, Abi slowly transforms into singer "Natasha," who performs at a Sancti Spiritus nightclub.
David Tesinsky
Abi smokes a cigarette while his partner and other flatmates are getting ready to make him up.
David Tesinsky
Abi is becoming Natasha with the help of his partner and flatmate.
David Tesinsky
Natasha gets inside a taxi as she's ready for the show.
David Tesinsky
Natasha shortly before the show.
David Tesinsky
Natasha backstage with other performers.
David Tesinsky
Natasha receives lots of applause.
David Tesinsky
Performer "Alina" holds a photo before their transformation.
David Tesinsky
Alina, left, in a duet with Natasha.
David Tesinsky
Malu walks the streets of Sancti Spiritus.
David Tesinsky
Malu, who has endured stints of homelessness, is very popular in the town.
David Tesinsky
Malu earns money by cleaning the entire theater before the show.
David Tesinsky
Malu prepares for the show.
David Tesinsky
Malu before a performance.
David Tesinsky
Malu performs in a Sancti Spiritus club.