Giancarlo Montes Santangelo was born and raised between Maryland and Washington, D.C.. He is receiving his BFA in Photography from SUNY Purchase in May 2018. Most recently, he has spoken at the SPE National Conference in Philadelphia about his practice and on the perils and possibilities of being diverse, in conversation with Ally Caple, Cristina Velásquez and Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa.

SPOTLIGHT: Recent Works


The project began after I found a photograph of my dad, dressed up as Santa, holding my sister and brother. At the time, my brother asked why he was brown. My mom responded: “he spent a lot of time around the equator because of his travels, so he got a tan.” Our family was relatively happy, we enjoyed Christmas and for all intents and purposes Santa was brown and the person in our house was THE Santa. However, this moment did mark an awareness produced by my dad’s body and its inability to be coherently incorporated into an American narrative. I began to think about that disjuncture; the moments in which bodies and subjects aren’t coherently seen and, as a result, are marked as non-normative. The photograph can locate and describe these slippages and I’m especially interested in photography as a tool to develop a language to address these experiences. The work pivots around these concerns as they relate to queerness and the labor involved in creating a queer body.

© Giancarlo Montes Santangelo

© Giancarlo Montes Santangelo

© Giancarlo Montes Santangelo

© Giancarlo Montes Santangelo

When and where did this project begin?

A few years ago I started taking pictures of gay, latin american men in New York City and talked to them about their specific experiences. I entered that project thinking that everyone had experienced a similar thing that I did; that these specific cultural-social-sexual identities created a type of tension that caused problems. While a lot of the guys I talked to share that sentiment, their stories and socialities were so so specific and distinct that I shied away from representing them in any way. 

Then, in my junior year of undergrad, I took a class called “Drag Theory”. The readings and discussions revolved around queer theory, so we were reading people like Jack Halberstam, Marjorie Garber, Paul Preciado and José Muñoz. I began to contextualize my own experience and tried to map out an epistemology of queer subjectivity. Ultimately, I boiled down their efforts and generally understood them as a deconstructing of a social infrastructure. Munoz describes it as disidentification; as an attempt to fashion a queer world by working on, with, and against dominant ideology. I was more attracted to looking at the labor that this involves, thinking about its effects and what it requires, rather than trying to describe a series of people. At the outset I knew I didn’t want to make a body of work about queerness by just looking AT queer people. I wanted to look at at the things that weren't as visible. 

I made those pictures for a while then I had a break from school, didn’t have access to any inkjet printers and was left with a bunch of crappy laser jet prints. Those tiny prints didn’t have the weight of the inkjet ones so I started to cut, rip and paste them and made these quick collages. From there I spent more time on them and grew to love the process and incorporated it into the larger body of work. Collaging serves as a disruption of the photographic coherence of the project. It’s a reminder that the pictures are in fact made, despite their appearance as documents. I like to think that the cuts, tears and incisions into what were previously “documents” start to reflect back the queer disruption of a set of relational codes that are naturalized by heterosexuality.

Where do you see this project going?

The project is going up in April as part of a senior thesis group show and again in May, in a group show in NYC. I’ve been experimenting with different ways of hanging the work and am starting to build a peephole/installation. It’s becoming increasingly important to create a show that mimics disidentification and the content of the pictures by pushing against how we look at the pictures themselves. I’m wrestling with the idea of creating a book that isn’t bound and is held together by its own folds and rips. They definitely exist but vimeo book walkthroughs don’t do them much justice, so I’m slowly figuring it out.

What helps you sustain your current creative practice?

I'm constantly looking at work, as is any practicing artist. I read a lot of disparate texts that kind of describe similar things. I'm a big Carl Jung fan. I try not to take the same way to wherever I’m going. Sadly, when I meditate I usually fall asleep after half an hour, but until then I dip in and out of a REMish state and see a bunch of stuff. I think it’s just half dreaming. But I do get images from that and use bits of them when I’m orchestrating a picture. My school has a great dance conservatory so the shows they put on inspire me a lot. They often articulate a thing I’ve been trying to. Drawing also helps!

What’s next for you?

I’m moving to South Africa in July! I’m going through the Peace Corps and I’ll be working in English classrooms and hopefully making some art with the students. I want to get an MFA afterwards, make work and eventually create books. Thinking, talking, moving, re-editing, and printing work, especially not my own, is the most exciting thing to me so hopefully I’ll get to do that for as long as I live.

What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?

There are so so many. Paul Mpagi Sepuya and George Awde engage with portraiture in distinct ways but end up creating pictures I can only dream of making. Raymond Meeks makes incredible books that pivot around an insular specific thing but seem to address a whole lot. I’m mostly inspired by the work of my peers. We’re in a space where experimenting is valued and it yields so much engaged work.