German Vazquez uses fashion, conceptual, and photojournalistic approaches to highlight BIPOC LGBTQ communities around the world.
German Vazquez, a Puerto Rico-born, New York City-raised, and Philadelphia-based photographer, elevates the underrepresented. He started photographing BIPOC LGBTQ communities several years ago, after noticing a lack of representation.
Determined to accurately depict the love and affection of BIPOC LGBTQ relationships—particularly those in Puerto Rico—Vazquez created spaces where his subjects felt safe and could embrace themselves as they were.
Vazquez eventually partnered with Shutterstock’s Create Fund, which supports historically excluded artists, helps fill content gaps, and creates a more inclusive library of contributor content.
As a contributor, Vazquez used his lens to overcome the stereotypical judgment and condemnation that comes with LGBTQ relationships. As a result, Vazquez’s images are tender, intimate, and evocative without being provocative.
Shutterstock: When did you first get into photography?
German Vazquez: I’ve had a camera since I was young. I always took photos and always took photo classes in high school. I ended up going to school for two years for photography, and once I finished school, I kept going with it and started my photo business.
SSTK: Had you always wanted to start your own business?
Vazquez: I had always been interested in art, but I never really knew you could make a career out of it. Most of the time, I heard people talking about “starving artists.” So, by the time I was 25, I had worked all these corporate jobs instead. None of them were fulfilling, so I ended up moving to New York City in 2014.
Turns out, New York is expensive! I was working four jobs and knew that school wasn’t going to be a thing. So, I moved to Philly where I did two years at a community college. I feel like that’s where I really navigated photography.
From there, everything just kind of started happening.
SSTK: Where do you find inspiration?
Vazquez: I love art history, and a lot of my work references it. Over the years, I’ve noticed a lack of representation about art history.
I also wasn’t seeing enough of, you know, people like me. People who represent who I am, people who are part of the LGBTQ community. I’ve always focused on that, in one way or another.
I like the idea of creating work that represents my community in the best way possible, not just the “trauma box” we’re always put in.
SSTK: Sometimes it can be hard to escape stereotypes. As a photographer, how do you avoid stereotyping?
Vazquez: I always think about what I want to see. One thing I don’t see enough of is Black on Black love. You see interracial couples in stock photography, but you never really see two Black folks in an image together, especially if they’re LGBTQ.
That’s why I started focusing on those areas. I wanted to see more same sex couples, and love and affection that wasn’t sexualized or glorified.
I wanted to showcase LGBTQ love in a more normal setting, where people are home and being intimate. Only with, you know, clothes on. There doesn’t have to be nudity for there to be intimacy.
SSTK: Did you notice any other gaps?
Vazquez: Glass blowers! I never see people of color blowing glass. I did end up finding people of color, a whole community, who are glass blowers. I was able to go to the studio with them, see them in action, and capture that.
Most people don’t know how much work goes into the glass products you see on store shelves. It was great to navigate that and capture images of other artists at work.
SSTK: Your work is so intimate. How do you develop trust with your subjects, especially if they’re feeling vulnerable?
Vazquez: I give people the space they need to be who they are. I pretend I’m not there. I don’t want my work to feel staged, so I don’t pose people. I don’t tell them what to do. I want real love and real affection to be represented, so I’m transparent about what’s going to happen.
If we’re in a studio, I tell people to act like they’re in their own home. To be as authentic as possible with one another. That, maybe, they’re just in their own bathroom, working the mirror.
SSTK: How has The Create Fund helped you?
Vazquez: I do a lot of fine art, fashion, and editorial work. So, when I found out I got the grant—I had never won a grant before—I took it as a challenge. It gave me the opportunity to capture the LGBTQ community in a way I wasn’t used to.
I wasn’t used to stock photography, but The Create Fund helped me look at things with a different perspective. Overall, I would say it was a blessing because it’s hard for artists to get funding.
SSTK: You say you took The Create Fund assignment as a challenge. What did you learn during the process?
Vazquez: The Create Fund really taught me how to pay attention to the details.
When it comes to this kind of work, you have to be critical. You can’t show certain brands or include logos. Learning that helped me understand more about rights, ownership, and promotional materials.
Now, whenever I submit a photo, I make sure there’s nothing in it that would cause it to be declined.
SSTK: Speaking of rights and ownership, where would you like your photos to be featured? Is there anyone you’d like to partner with?
Vazquez: I would love to partner with more LGBTQ organizations and see my work on posters. Online. In campaigns. If you’re going to do a Pride campaign, why not use images that represent the LGBTQ community?
It doesn’t have to be all rainbows and butterflies.
SSTK: What’s next for you? Anything you’re excited about?
Vazquez: I actually just won another grant! I’m planning to go to Puerto Rico to make more content. There’s a different energy there, they’re just so open. I want to capture trans couples and non-binary couples and do an exhibition down the road.
I’ve done exhibitions before, but I would love for this one to be made of beautiful images that make people happy, that make people feel good. Just feel whatever the picture makes you feel, you know?
License this cover image via German Vazquez.