I first began taking photo booth pictures in 1993 at the urging of a fellow student and good friend. At the time, I was enrolled as an MFA student at the Intermedia program of the University of Iowa headed by the German artist Hans Breder. Using performance art as a therapeutic tool, I chose the photo booth to record my creative process.
I value using the photo booth because of its history, the sense of nostalgia inherent in the finished product, and the wonderful tension I experience from simultaneously being in a very private, yet obviously public space. This dichotomy is perfect for the themes I choose to explore in my work; the privacy of the booth allows me to investigate what I truly feel and think, while the public openness exposes the personal anxiety of how I appear to others – how I view myself as opposed to how others perceive me. I have worked with the photo booth now for more than twenty-five years and can categorize my work into three themes.
A series I call “Latina Drag” deals with issues of sexuality. This work arose from the tensions I often feel as a young woman negotiating my own sense of sexuality. Latina culture worships a very specialized sense of femininity, where being sexy is something to be proud of and a major source of self-power. This sexiness, however, must never lead to improper sexual behavior. Although the Feminist Movement has made tremendous efforts to empower, validate, and humanize the lives of women, I believe women are still very much affected by the mere existence of a double standard that we are subjected to in our sexuality. We live in a culture in which female sexuality is divided, corrupted, and consumed in terms of the opposing roles of the virgin and the whore.
Shot simultaneously is a second series I call “Mugshots”. This series not only deals with issues of sexuality but also touches upon themes of ethnicity and identity. As a woman of color going to school in a predominately white environment, I experienced a deep sense of isolation. I was often painfully aware of how I was being singled out and consumed visually in my Iowa setting.
The rest of the photo booth strips were created using what the British artist, Jo Spence, terms “phototherapy”, which she defines in her autobiography Putting Myself in the Picture (1986) as “quite literally using photography to heal ourselves.” I have organized these strips by themes in a manner similar to the Babbette Hines book Photobooth in which vintage photo booth strips are divided in batches labeled according to intent. My strips, as they currently exist, are not yet a finished product; I envision them as large-scale c-prints.
Somewhat related to the photo booth strips, yet conceptually independent in their intent and process, is another body of work I call “Icons.” This work arose from a period of personal crisis and deep depression that lasted nearly three years. The images of me were initially made using the photo booth and Polaroid, which were then used as a template for healing the inherent expressions of anger, longing, loneliness, and passion.
My mentality in creating these images is one where if the exterior world could not accept or recognize the complexities which I know to exist within me, then I can attempt to release the inward sorrow by doing the only thing I can do as a artist – I must create space for myself in which I can once again be a whole person. It is paramount that this space be a sacred realm, as I believe myself to be deeply spiritual. Many of these images are influenced by my Catholic upbringing. As an adult, however, I have rejected much of the Catholic dogma, thus numerous images also contain symbols outside that tradition.
I have long been a prolific writer and photographer and am overjoyed to have found a new sense of maturity in my life, which, I believe, will take the work I have thus far created to a different level. I am currently working on another series I intend to call “Cindy Sherman Goes Ethnic”, a series of photo booth strips inspired by Babbette Hines’s vintage collection, and a series that explores the effect that cultural icons, such as movie stars and rock stars, have on our lives and influence on our sense of identity.