Artist Interviews 2024

Carlos Leal  
By Laura Siebold

Carlos Leal is not your average artist. The Swiss-born rapper, actor and photographer has always been dedicated to a cause. We met the artist at the LA Art Show in February and were captivated by the simplicity and directness of his photographs documenting the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. In recent years, Carlos turned his hobby into a more professional part of his career, and documents aspects of social abandonment and inequality on the streets of LA. Observation with an underlying social criticism defines Carlos’ photography. The respectful artistic approach to important social topics has earned the artist a spotlight in this issue. Carlos Leal resides in Los Angeles, CA.

Carlos, you are a man of many talents – a singer (a rapper – specifically), actor, and photographer. When did you start with professional photography and why did you choose this art form?

I have always been interested in photography and while I was traveling for movie projects, I loved taking pictures of my surroundings to add them to my personal notes and even sometimes to complete stories around my movie characters. But I seriously immerse[d] myself in photo projects in 2020. This is when I realized that I wanted to get back my power of judgement about the society I live in.

Please tell us a bit more about your artistic background. Where did you grow up and how much of an art education did you enjoy? When did you first exhibit your photography publicly?

I was born in the French part of Switzerland [of] Spanish immigrants. When I was a teenager, I became one of the first French rap artist[s ] with my band Sens Unik. We were one of the biggest French rap bands at the time and we released 9 albums (5 golden records). After that, in 2000 I started an acting career in Paris and had the chance to be working in more than 100 international projects as a professional actor since (https:// The photography was first a hobby, but it quickly became part of my professional life. I launched my first exhibition at the national Swiss photo fair Swissphotography, the equivalent of Paris Photo in Switzerland.

I came across your work at the L.A. Art Show and was intrigued by the photographs of the collection “We have all fantasized about Hollywood” showing L.A.’s darker side – homelessness, loneliness, and social abandonment. When did you first get in touch with this topic and what is the message you would like to convey with your art? Do you plan on an extension of this series?

As a former rapper, I was missing the possibility to observe and express myself about the World I live in. Photography has given me back this power. And as an actor, I’m lucky to live the Hollywood Dream. So, I decided to combine both worlds and focus on the contrast between the Hollywood fantasy and the harsh reality in the streets of Los Angeles. My work is essentially based on the condition and life of houseless people in Los Angeles. Honestly, I’ve been traveling a lot in my life, but I’ve rarely seen such a social abandonment concerning the human condition. The Hollywood industry is a huge propaganda machine to reflect the pros and cons of America, but Hollywood movies will never show the misery and human annihilation I witness in neighborhoods like Skidrow in Downtown L.A. After showing my work in different galleries, I have decided to release my first photo book about that topic. It will have the same name “We have all fantasized about Hollywood”.

Are there further topics you are passionate about and which you want to draw attention to with your work?

I love taking portraits of the different people I meet in my life and especially the actors I work with. I also love to take more Artsy style photos, but for now, I want to focus on one project at the time. Once I will release my book, I will start a new big project about a social topic.

You were born in Switzerland and have spent some time in Paris. You’ve been living in Los Angeles for several years now. Have you always been aware of the social causes and inequalities in society in different countries, and have tried incorporating them into your art?

Absolutely, when I was the MC of my band Sens Unik, most of our songs were about political or social topics. I always want to be involved in the possibility to change our world into a better place, even if I find it an utopia idea. My work as an actor is different because I am at the service of other people’s projects and ideas. And even if I try to bring as much humanity as possible in my interpretation of my characters, I’m still not the creator of the project. Photography has brought me back in command if I can say it like this.

How do you approach your subjects, especially in very sensitive situations?

I’m not here to necessarily judge but to observe and give my personal point of view without forcing my audience into specific critical thoughts. I will never show the faces of the houseless people I photograph because I don’t want to put a label on them. But I think it is important to show how this capitalist society can push humans into despair an[d] social abandonment. Of course, I’m trying to stay safe and I’m being careful while walking arou[n]d certain areas. I also do my best to respect these people as much as possible.

How is your photography perceived in your home country versus the U.S.? Do you think that art can play a role in preventing the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles in the future?

Absolutely. My country as much as most of the rest of the World have a wrong idea about Los Angeles and Hollywood, so they are very interested and intrigued when I tell them about this dark side of America. But I would love to contribute to the possibility of a change by showing my work in L.A and perhaps to work hand in hand with some associations that are trying to help houseless people.

You are part of the Swiss Street Collective, an online community showcasing street photography in Switzerland. How does this collective help you in promoting your photography to the public? Are there further (online) galleries where you currently exhibit your work.

I don’t think I wanna talk about this.

Looking back at your career, what is the project you are most proud of and why?

Difficult to say. I don’t really like to look back but rather further. Obviously, my work with my music band Sens Unik has been a big influence for some generations of people in Switzerland and France but I’m also proud [of] what I have achieved as an actor. What I hope is to be even prouder [of] my first photography book, haha.

We are excited about future projects and where we can see your art next. Can you please tell us about your upcoming plans for 2024?

I just shot a new Marvel TV series and, right now, I am writing these answers from Greece where I am shooting in the second feature film of a very talented European film director. I hope to release my photography book “ We have all fantasized about Hollywood” this year. Hope you’ll like it :)

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