Luciana Demichelis: ‘Raving is a kind of meditative thing’

All images © Luciana Demichelis
This article appears in our 2023 Ones to Watch issue. Secure your copy via the BJP Shop, limited stock available

Disillusioned with the limitations of traditional documentary photography, the Argentinian Ones to Watch winner turned her lens to the euphoria and escapism of her country’s party scene

Fact and fiction may represent the opposite, but for Luciana Demichelis, it is not so clear cut. After studying photojournalism at the National University of La Plata, the Argentinian quickly became disillusioned with the format’s limitations: a quest for ‘absolute’ truth felt at best stifling, and at worst impossible. Just because something is labelled as ‘documentary photography’ does not make it true. “And we can still talk about reality using the tools of fiction,” they say.

Since then, Demichelis’ practice has morphed into something more enigmatic: a merging of actuality and imagination whereby the viewer struggles to tell what is real and what is not. Inspired by the likes of Cristina de Middel, Jorge Panchoaga and Max Pinckers – all of whom examine photography’s ambiguous relationship to truth – Demichelis compares their role as photographer to that of an author or novelist. “Literary stories have played such a huge role in conversations about humanity throughout history,” Demichelis says. “I don’t know why we can’t think of photography in the same way.”

Their project Limbo – which was conceptualised during a workshop with De Middel – documents and fabricates parts of Argentina’s rave scene. In a powder-blue haze of hyperrealism and dream-like ecstasy, young people are pictured embracing on the dance floor or consumed by moments of solitary euphoria. Aptly titled, Limbo is a love letter to liminal spaces of many kinds. “[Raving] is kind of a meditative thing,” Demichelis elaborates. “You start to feel your body change. You’re not quite on Earth, but not fully in heaven. You’re alone in this kind of inner trance, but experiencing it together. You’re not so young anymore, but not really adults.” The series was also made at a time in Demichelis’ life when they were transitioning to presenting as non-binary.

Conscious of negative stereotypes about young people in Argentina (not to mention their relationship with drugs as Latin Americans), Demichelis is passionate about building a safe rave culture in their home country. That sense of love and tenderness is palpable in the images: with the help of a signature remote flash and some post-production, each one reverberates with a soft, ethereal glow; at times ghostly – even alien – but never unsettling. 

“Luciana Demichelis’ art invites us to delve into a world exploring the undefined boundaries between quietness, music and psychoactive substances,” says Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, who nominated Demichelis for Ones to Watch. “Fresh in language and deep in message, Limbo masterfully captures the essence of parties… And the immersive arrangement of the pieces in their exhibitions expands our visual and sensory experience.” Demichelis was also nominated by Bolivian photographer River Claure.

“Luciana Demichelis’ art invites us to delve into a world exploring the undefined boundaries between quietness, music and psychoactive substances”

Demichelis has been exhibited around Latin America and at FORMAT Festival in the UK earlier this year. They have honed their voice via other work, such as Órbita W, which ruminates on Argentinian satellites as symbols of new sovereignty and a better future for Latin America. This year, they were awarded a scholarship for a photography master’s at Lens School of Visual Arts in Madrid, where they plan to continue interrogating how notions of subjectivity, speculation and fiction can inform and interact with ‘truth’.

Flossie Skelton

Flossie Skelton joined British Journal of Photography in 2019, where she is currently Commissioning Editor across awards, Studio and partner content. She does freelance writing, editing and campaign work across arts, culture and feminism; she has worked with BBC Arts, Belfast Photo Festival and Time’s Up. She is also an illustrator, with artwork published in Marie Claire, ES Magazine, Sunday Times Style and the Guardian.