A Female Photographer Subverts Sex Tourism in the Dominican Republic

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Hola Mi Amol Karla Hiraldo Voleau Dominican Republic sex
Hola Mi Amol by Karla Hiraldo Voleau© Karla Hiraldo Volaeau, courtesy of SPBH Editions

French-Dominican photographer Karla Hiraldo Voleau travelled to the Dominican Republic to explore the island’s men with her body and camera

French-Dominican photographer Karla Hiraldo Voleau was often told, “never date a Dominican”. It was a piece of advice she shrugged off. Both she and her cousin were born to French mothers and Dominican fathers while her French grandmother had also travelled to the Dominican Republic and fallen in love with a local man.

“I was like, ‘But every one of you guys dated a Dominican so... what the heck?’” Hiraldo Voleau says with a laugh from her home in Lausanne, Switzerland. Growing up, she would travel to Santo Domingo, the island’s capital, every summer and she decided to return once more to do a project exploring love, sex and the relationships between men and women that have long fascinated her. 

“I was intrigued by these foreign white women who come to the Caribbean to have this escape, this tropical love story, and wanted to impersonate one,” Hiraldo Voleau says, subverting the traditional idea of sexual tourism. The result is Hola Mi Amol, a shortlist nominee for Aperture’s First PhotoBook Award, which will be featured in the 2020 Foam Talent exhibition.

“Every mixed kid would tell you they never fit anywhere, but at the same time I would say maybe I never felt more Dominican than when I was doing the project,” Hiraldo Voleau says. Playing the tourist, she travelled the island alone, ready to explore its men with her body and camera.

Hola Mi Amol provides a delicious glimpse of sun-drenched flesh in paradise, Hirlado Voleau’s intimate portraits partnered with poetic insights in English and Spanish. The men are easily half-naked or fully so, one thinking the photo shoot was foreplay, another keen to get professional pictures he could use for his music project.

“In all my projects I am really invested in living something truthful. Nothing was staged. It’s a performative project because I was not acting, I was really living the stuff that I tell in the book one hundred percent,” Hiraldo Voleau says.  “At first I knew what I was getting myself into. I was not prude or shocked. They would not take so much advantage of me because I am Dominican too, so I know all the tricks. I felt very powerful because I was taking them where I wanted in the end.”

But life has a funny way of answering our prayers. During her travels, Hiraldo Voleau met a witch who told her: “A tall elegant brown man will enter your life and he will love you so much – just as much as you will love him.” 

Hiraldo Voleau met Denichel in Punta Cana, and for the next four days, she was completely swept away. “My stepmother was concerned that I was actually falling in love with a Dominican and would run away with him,” she says. “Even though she’s open-minded and liberal, it was amazing to see how deep this stereotype was.”

In the end, he is the only man she was ever intimate with, despite the best efforts of all involved. Asking how many men she hooked up with is a question that makes her laugh. “Everyone expects I would behave like a guy – that I am a collector of souls and penises,” Hiraldo Voleau says. “I cannot just look at a man and desire him in my own head; people think I have to be a maneater in order to be a performance artist. It’s more about love and tenderness than sex. I want to relive the love of my parents. I want to time travel.”

Hola Mi Amol by Karla Hiraldo Voleau is out now, published by SPBH Editions and ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne.