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8 June 2023


Sasha Asensio, Visual Artist and a beam of light for "the others";
Portrait as Empowerment

KörperMagazine in conversation with

Text: Elena Isaeva @boredbutsuddenly

A picture is worth a thousand words; and from the Körper team we invite you, before going into detail about Sasha, to take a look at a small selection we have made of his work.

Grown-up in Brazil’s San Paulo, Sasha Asensio is nowadays based in Barcelona’s Raval, which serves him as a never-ending source of inspiration. His style balances between documentary and art; his images are always highly social: they provoke critical reflection, disclose the deepest layers of human personality and are a true slap in the face of our normopathic culture.

We had the pleasure of meeting Sasha in person and talking about his creative vision. How does he develop his ideas and establish a bond with people he takes portraits of? Who is his main audience, what are his current and new projects, what would his advice to the young documentarians be? Find out in the interview below!


Probably one of your most famous photo projects is the Raval series. You capture human landscape outside the conventional circuit…How do you manage to create confidence with your models?
You should treat people with trust, love, and tact, and it will open many doors for you. But I also think that this trait is something innate—whether you are born with it or not.

Do you think that being a good psychologist is necessary for a documentary photographer?
Absolutely! It is a must!

Has something changed in the post-pandemic Raval of 2023?
Raval is a very vibrant and intercultural place. On my Instagram, I recently made a post about its history and why it is so interesting to me. It used to be a place to isolate the plague. And even now, it keeps being an abandoned backyard, a kind of social container, and a place to meet diversity. For me, this project never ends. Actually, all my projects are open.

But don’t you have a feeling that Raval is becoming more and more trendy and touristy and might lose its flair?
Nowadays, all casual is a trend, but there is also another trend: people neglect to notice problematic topics. I live in Raval, and I am surrounded by extraordinary neighbours there. I think it is important to depict and analyze it and to show it to our dystopic society, which sees only what it wants to see.

Portrait of Sasha Asensio

Could you name some of the people you shoot regularly?
One of my “muses” is Gilda Love. Also Yode Black Alien, Monica del Raval…[Sasha takes a bunch of 10x15 photos out of his pocket and shows us with tenderness some incredible portraits]: By the way, I always carry some photocards of my models with me so that I can give them a present when I see them again. It makes them very happy!

What was the most extreme situation for you to shoot?
It was probably when I was shooting inside the drug-dealer´s flat in 2018. It was extremely intense and complicated physically…

How do you recover psychologically after such intense shootings?
You should definitely train yourself to recycle what you have just shot. I remember once I was shooting in Skid Row and just burst into tears!

When travelling, do you search for neighbourhoods similar to Raval on purpose?
Yes, I would say I have become a specialist in investigating urban spaces with extraordinary complexity. These are, for example, Las 3000 Viviendas in Sevilla, Skid Row in Los Angeles, and Quartieri Spagnoli in Naples.

Do you always have your camera with you when you go out?
Right! I always have my camera with me, and I walk around 25 kilometers per day! If I go to La Mina of Barcelona, I return home to Raval on foot.  I take pictures every day. And if not, I feel bad.

Do your family and friends still ask you to take pictures of them, or do they know you will not be interested at all?
My family knows I am not interested in it. If I suddenly needed to take sport pictures, I would have no clue how to deal with it! Photography has so many fields. Each one should be specially trained! It is the same as in medicine: an ophthalmologist is not a general practitioner.
Actually, some of my friends overtly say to me, “Please do not take pictures of me!” They do not want to be associated with the row of people I shoot. I disagree with such normopathic attitude. Paraphrasing Lorca, if you had the chance to get a good education, you are obliged to get interested in people who did not.

What is your attitude toward social media?
Social media are good for giving visibility to my work, but not to myself as a person. Instagram is often the essence of badly managed egoism. It seems that we all now live in an imaginary world, and this is not healthy. People do not connect with reality. I hope that my work provides this lost connection to what is happening around us.

Where could beginners in documentary photography start practicing and searching for material?
It is not difficult in the times of crisis we live in: we had pre-Covid, the pandemics and post-pandemics, a tremendous increase in prices and poverty. Now in the park of Joan Miró, we have tents where people live because they cannot pay their flat rents… Photographers can go there! The important thing is to start talking to these people. And talking horizontally, with respect, as if you are talking to your brother or sister.


Portrait of Sasha, in his local neighbourhood, Raval

Your father was a lawyer, and then he changed careers to become an artist. Your story is similar: you are a professional graphic designer, but you trained yourself as a photographer. What would your advice be on how to follow the creative path despite all obstacles?

The most important thing here is your desire. Art is an obsession, and you just cannot help doing it. The question of how to live out of it should not stand in the first place. You can combine several jobs if necessary and progress step by step by changing the weights.

You gave interviews to Betevé,, Kopek Magazine, Cultura Inquieta… How did you start becoming visible to the media?
Your job is to work hard and follow your artistic passion. And later, they should come and call you. I might be a bad self-manager because the only thing I want to do is take pictures. I often forget about promoting and networking. So many things happen just occasionally to me.


Do you have a lot of collaborations with newspapers as a documentary photographer?
I do not consider myself a hundred percent documentarian, which is why newspapers have never been my target. My work is half documentary and half art. I sell my work in very limited series to private collectors, and it helps me to make ends meet.

How would you describe your main audience?
I would call them curious minds. They are collectors who like photography, which is hard to take. The portraits I create allow me to reveal layers of personality: sensibility, tragedy, innocence, need for something.

How do you prepare your compositions?
My technique is not as quick as in street photography. My settings are theatralized. Before shooting, I talk to my models so that they feel good and relax. I prepare my images, but of course within the circumstances I have: I still cannot move my model further than fifty meters, and I should have my camera ready very quickly.

Do you prefer to avoid photo-editing as much as possible in your work?
I try to use the original size, a fixed focal length lens, and do not do any reframing. If I modify a piece, it is one in a hundred photos, and I take it as a small personal fiasco... My principle is “to cook little or nothing”.

Portrait of Sasha starting his daily shooting

Who are your favourite painters and photographers?
I feed myself by visiting Museum of Prado, MET, Hermitage, etc. I like Caravaggio, Velasquez. As for photographers, one of my favourite is August Sander, who has an amazing series “Persecuted/Persecutors” where we see portraits of Nazis and their victims.

On your website, you present a completely different project, dedicated to huge cigarette stubs. Could you tell us about it?
Well, in the past, we had human excrement on the streets, but now we have cigarettes. They are small and seem unnoticeable, but I make them gigantic on purpose! I hope it can provoke critical thinking about the current ecological situation! If I could, I would like to hang big posters with cigarette butts all around Barcelona! And besides, to do paste-ups in public spaces as a way of social education. So people would see what they did not want to see! I really think that the Ministry of Environment could have made me an order!

Do you have new projects in mind?

I keep adding material to all my projects. I also want to focus more on taking pictures in the interiors of Raval, which are not that easy to access and also have bad light. One new idea is to research emigrant women from Pakistan, who have lots of obstacles to study.

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