When photographer Vinicius Terranova started a photo series on beauty, he aimed to document the diversity of appearances found throughout the world. But when the artist discovered a pair of 11-year-old sisters, the twins exceeded every expectation he had. And now that Terranova’s work is finished, his former subjects are taking the world by storm.
Lara and Mara Bawar were born in Guinea-Bissau but raised in Brazil, and they came into the world marked by a very distinctive condition: albinism, which is a disorder characterized by melanin deficiency. Essentially, the sisters grew up without pigment in their hair or skin, and as a consequence, they possess beautifully distinctive and eye-catching looks.
Certainly, albinism is rare within the world’s population. In fact, it is so infrequent that only one in 17,000 people are estimated to have the condition. And, interestingly, Lara and Mara’s sister Sheila – who is two years their elder – doesn’t have the disorder.
Naturally, the girls’ condition gives them an uncommonness that sets them apart from the crowd. Moreover, the pair have already caught the attention of some high-profile names in the media and fashion industries. Already, for example, Lara and Mara have modeled for the likes of Nike and Harper’s Bazaar Kids. And their offers see no sign of drying up.
Furthermore, this modeling work led them to 26-year-old photographer Vinicius Terranova. Born in Switzerland and based in São Paulo, Terranova has already explored themes of race and revolution through his work. And in 2016 the artist decided to turn his lens to modern perceptions of beauty for his project Flores Raras.
Indeed, it was this idea that drew his attention to Lara and Mara. “I came across the models in a video,” he told the Daily Mail in March 2017. “They are incredibly beautiful and talented and that’s why I wanted to work with them. They are self-confident, intelligent and work very well.”
“Flores Raras” means “Rare Flowers” in Spanish, and the twins were perfect for a project that showcases individuals whose appearances are often overlooked in favor of traditional notions of beauty. “My point is to analyze how being uncommon is far from being negative,” Terranova told Metal magazine. “When you possess a different – therefore rare – trait, this feature makes you more beautiful and special – never less.”
And fittingly it is an idea shared by the girls, who love their looks and feel no discomfort in their own skins. “Growing up like this was amazing,” Mara told the Daily Mail. “We love being different and are happy with our own beauty.”
Lara offered some similarly spirited attitude to her and her sister’s appearances. “We feel albinism is pretty, we love our hair, eye color and skin tone,” she said. “Our hair and skin tone are pretty and we feel very special wearing the make-up, hair and light that are worked to fit us.”
Meanwhile, with its elegant composition and stylistic flair, Flores Raras feels like it’s been pulled straight from a fashion magazine’s front pages. And throughout the piece, Terranova accentuates the girls’ natural beauty using soft color tones and muted lighting. As a result, the twins feel they both blend into and jump out from their surroundings.
And as well as showcasing the girls’ appearances, Terranova has also photographed their sister Sheila to highlight the contrasts between the siblings. “Their love for each other is visible,” he told Metal. “Their beauty is complimentary in every single way, and their differences coexist in harmony just like it should be every way in society.”
In addition, Terranova seeks an emotional response to his work and hopes it will open up new lines of dialogue. “As a photographer, I find it important to open a debate in order to create,” he told Metal. “My responsibility consists in truly experiencing the transformations among the situations and the subjects I address.”
However, although many of the photos of the twins are seemingly naturalistic, other snaps take a more surreal approach. In these, Terranova – who lists experimental filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky as an influence – has incorporated more strange and symbolic elements into his work. One fascinating shot, for example, sees the girls joined by a single braid as if they are one unified life form.
And although undeniably strange, this mixture of practical and fantastical elements is all part of Terranova’s method. “My work is not about the real or surreal, it is more grounded on a perspective shift,” he told Hunger in 2016. “It is the deconstruction of prejudice and old patterns that reveal the magic.”
Besides drawing awareness to unorthodox beauty, Flores Raras has also put the Bawar girls on an international platform. And since posing for the project, Lara, Mara and Sheila have made a sizeable imprint on social media, too. As of April 2017, for example, their Instagram account alone has over 50,000 followers.
Indeed, it seems as if social media users can’t get enough of these charming ingénues, and innumerable positive messages dot the girls’ posts. “You are all so beautiful!!” gushed one Instagrammer. “Thank you for sharing your world on IG. Very inspirational.”
“We also love to read the beautiful comments on our pictures,” Lara told the Daily Mail. And Sheila also expressed her satisfaction with their following, saying, “It feels wonderful to put this out there, to communicate with people who identify with our work. We like to see our beauty being valued by its unique aspects.”
And that popularity online may mean that the twins will scoop up new modeling contracts in the near future. In fact, the sisters – perhaps inspired by their recent success – have also expressed an interest in pursuing careers in fashion later on in life. Both Lara and Mara hope to become models. Sheila, meanwhile, wants to work as a stylist.
Furthermore, Terranova is also looking forward to the future and preparing for where his lens will take him next. In particular, the photographer hopes to travel the world and catalog its unique cultures. And perhaps inspired by his recent subjects, he has the Bawars’ native Guinea-Bissau in mind as his first port of call.
But whatever these talented and beautiful individuals decide to do next, they can rest assured that their work has already made a difference. “Diversity is the most beautiful model for the future,” Terranova told Hunger. “It is important to take action, listen and support those who are marginalized… These people know a lot and are survivors and heroes in their own realities.”