The Personal is Political: Grandorge vs Sanguino at the Queen Adelaide, 28 September 2022
The photographs in ‘Grandorge vs Sanguino’ exhibition in the basement of The Queen Adelaide in Hackney are, undoubtedly, a labour of love. ‘I am not a spiritual person,’ David Grandorge tells me, transfixed by the portrait of a woman he took at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, ‘but when Panchita took your hands into hers, you could feel this incredible thing suddenly flowing into your system, running up your arms’. He is looking at a portrait of a middle aged woman wearing a black traditional dress embroidered with silver chains and discs, a silver trarilonco headband and a white knitted cardigan, the elder of Mapuche nation in Chile, Panchita Calfin. ‘She’s a healer’, he explains. A machi.
One thing is certain. For anyone familiar with Grandorge’s architectural photography, this exhibition is a departure. This much he acknowledges to me with a grin. The photographs can be broadly grouped into three categories – graduation fashion shows, London Fashion Week and COP26 – but what unites them is Grandorge’s fascination with the people he portrays, their stories and the journeys they made to get where they are. Literally and metaphorically. That, and what Grandorge refers to as ‘the only reason these photographs exist’ – Liliana Sanguino.
The exhibition charts a long-term collaboration between Grandorge and Sanguino, a Colombian fashion academic, curator and MA Menswear Course Leader at The University of Westminster. In 2015 and 2019, Sanguino curated the Colombian stands at the International Fashion Showcase during London Fashion Week. In 2019, Grandorge took photographs behind the scenes of the Colombian stand WRAPARAOUND and created striking portraits of a unique group of people. Many of these have since become the subject of a documentary WËRAPARA – Chicas Trans by the filmmaker Claudia Fischer, on which Sanguino collaborated alongside fashion designer and academic Gulsun Metin and fashion designer Laura Laurens – a group of artisan trans women from the Embera Chamí community of the indigenous reservation Karmata Rúa in Antioquia, Colombia. 
Grandorge’s politics, personal warmth and humour run like a current throughout the exhibition. In a number of images the trans models pose in front of Somerset House wearing outfits combining Embera Chamí beadwork with contemporary designs by Laura Laurens. He is quick to point out that he found it very gratifying to photograph them outside the former British Empire’s Tax Office.
In 2021 Grandorge travelled to Glasgow during the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) where he took portraits of delegates and members of the Minga Indígena, a collective of communities and organisations from across the American continent. He points to the photographs, one by one, recounting the personal stories that had stuck in his mind; that of Gloria Ushigua, the leader and shaman of the Sápara people of the Ecuadorian Amazon, who walked through the rainforest for 15 days to make the flight to Glasgow. His gaze cannot hide his personal feelings for his subjects.
The feminist activist Carol Hanisch popularised the phrase that ‘the personal is political’ and, to this day, what often defines a photographer is where they point the camera.  And so, it is also true of Grandorge’s work in this exhibition, where not only does the personal become political, but where the political becomes personal. Very personal.
About the Author
Kasia Kowalska is a third-year Photography student at the School of Art, Architecture and Design.