Photographer Paola Paredes likes girls. She has since an early age. Growing up in Ecuador, however, Paredes became accustomed to keeping this concealed. "It became something I was used to hiding," the artist explained to Fotographia magazine. "There were many years where I tortured myself into thinking there was something wrong with me, a big secret that I could never share because it was too shameful."
Recently, at 29 years old, Paredes resolved to come out to her family. What's more, she decided to document the entire process. The resulting series is called "Unveiled."
"I was inspired by very personal bodies of work, especially photographers who had turned the camera onto themselves," Paredes explained to The Huffington Post. "Upon researching an idea I wanted to work on I found a book called Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs. I was taken by the many lovely pictures done by various female artists, expressing their sexuality through photography. I knew then and there that I wanted to do a project similar to that, one that would be close to my heart."
It was the prospect of visual storytelling that compelled Paredes to come out. "I had never had any intention to come out before," she said. "But the idea of capturing it in photographs made it, all of a sudden, appealing. I like storytelling, and I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to tell one. That really gave me the push I needed."
Before the conversation itself, Paredes told her two sisters, who already knew about her sexual orientation, of her vision to photograph the intense exchange with her parents. They expressed their concerns about the project, particularly about their mother and father's reactions.
"I really had no idea what I was getting myself into," Paredes explained. "The unpredictability of my parents' reaction was a worry. I had some people telling me they would be fine with it, and then I had another group of people trying to persuade me to not tell them this way. Some even told me to make sure the camera equipment was insured ... Those worries were in my mind until the very last moment. I just hoped for the best."
Before the confrontation itself, Paredes began photographing her parents' daily lives, helping them adjust to reacting naturally before the camera and hopefully not shocking them with cameras in the moment. When the time for the dialogue came, Paredes positioned three cameras around the dinner table in what she deemed the least intrusive way possible. She arranged the cameras to fire off every five seconds for three hours, later editing down the thousands of frames to create a stirring narrative.
Paredes' images capture the dynamic range of raw emotions that come with a complicated conversation between loved ones. The anxiety, fear, confusion and worry are tangible on all the Paredeses' faces. Most conspicuous of all, however, is the love between them, and the overwhelming support for Paola's happiness.
In the end, the photographic element provided Paredes with a sense of catharsis, and the personal strength to go through with expressing her truth. After the fact, she has no regrets. "The reality of being ‘gay’ in a country like Ecuador or in Latin America is not easy. There is still a lot of work ahead, it is slowly becoming better, but the change starts in each individual person to build tolerance and to educate people. If ‘Unveiled’ can help even one person come out of the closet, then I would have achieved my goal."
See the conversation unfold in images below.
Also on HuffPost: