An ongoing series, Woman started as a depth of field assignment for a Black and White 101 lab photography class at the International Center of Photography in New York City. We were asked to photograph objects at different distances by simply changing the depth of field in the lens and I thought I wanted to photograph a real person instead because I was interested in portraiture and had never done any before this class and this series.
Martha, my mom, was visiting me from South America, and I asked her if I could take her portrait for a class assignment. I figure I had never photographed my mother and I was very excited to do so that day. I had come back to New York from Tucson, Arizona just to take photography classes because I had noticed that as a self-taught photographer I had hit a wall. And I had never worked with black and white film. And I had never taken a single portrait.
So I grabbed three chairs from my apartment and we walked a few steps to the space underneath the Brooklyn Queens Expressway near Lorimer in Bushwick, Brooklyn (New York City). Mom was game. And when I first saw her portrait with the three chairs, I thought of her long life and how she was a maverick for the women in her generation. And I have been privy to the challenges during her life, and how those three chairs in essence spoke to a past, a present, and a future. I tried to imagine who she would be and look like twenty years from that day.
And I started to imagine I could take portraits of women with three chairs and build my first series. At the time, I was very preoccupied with how women are portrayed in media, and specifically how their image is over-produced and ultra-objectified, and manipulated to look non-human. I was also interested in investigating whether I could minimize or erase my male gaze. More than anything, I was exploring my own biases and was interested in exploring how to avoid the objectified manner in which a woman is portrayed by a man. There are institutionalized structures in the male brain that must be eradicated if we are ever going to imagine fresh perspectives that elevate woman out of their conventional roles and man-controlled agency. Specifically, how can we enact full agency for a woman across all aspects of society that is almost a given for any man?
And so I started thinking of rules that would strip away my power as a visual-thinker. Rules that would address my male gaze as directly as possible by shifting the power to the woman I would photograph. And these are the rules for these portraits. I know they are not perfect. But it is a start to a journey for me. Why I am still working on this series.
A woman is asked to: - Bring three chairs. - Select a location of her choosing, if feasible, a location of meaning to her. - Dress and present herself visually as she pleases. She controls her presentation. - She decides what to express to the camera.
The rules did not always work, logistics being the main challenge, but I made sure to discuss them at length with each woman. With one exception, all portraits are taken with AS400 black and white film so I could avoid using any light setup and instead use ambient light so as to strip as much photography production from the sessions. I felt the sessions needed to be as raw and as real as possible. No production. No assistants. My silence, my camera, and HER portrait session according to HER agency.