My Own Witness - Statement
My Own Witness: Dulce.13
Pigment print on museum-quality cotton rag paper; 18" x 24"; Edition 1/8
My Own Witness
“What is a portrait, if not an acknowledgment of a human encounter: an opportunity to imagine the life of another?”
As a photographer, activist, and practicing trauma psychologist, I feel the urgency for the artistic expression of the grave injustices in our society and attempts for repair and transformation. In my collaborative portraits, I strive to merge the close listening of a clinical exchange with the visibility of photographs. I began the “My Own Witness” series in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. In this post-election crisis of democracy, I have encountered rage, grief, and fear as systematic racism, misogyny, sexual exploitation, homophobia, xenophobia, and police brutality have been progressively exposed. This series of collaborative portraits was motivated by the writings of Emmanuel Lévinas, Judith Butler, and Teju Cole. They see face-to-face encounters as a moral activity to compassionately experience the lives of others. My aesthetic choices were inspired by the character-revealing portraits of Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Sally Mann, and Zanele Muholi.
Every Friday, I invite people to come to my studio to explore their experiences in these moments of United States history; to bear witness to themselves in these dark and broken times. I ask my sitters to turn themselves “inside out” and to use pose, gesture, gaze, props, and story-telling to express their emotional truths. In the process as subjects, they assert their identity – “here I am” – and their resistance to being exploited and marginalized. As my co-creators choose to discover, unveil, and reveal through image and text (each sitter writes a short narrative about their portrait), they claim ownership of self and provoke others to viscerally connect with them.
Some sitters explore feelings of profound vulnerability or helplessness. Some use this experience to assert and express identities increasingly being suppressed by the outside world. Others uncover ferocious strength they did not know they had as they look anger and hatred in the eye.
While the American flag has become a complicated symbol, some of my sitters have reclaimed and re-imagined it to express distress, defiance, and/or respectful hope for the return of democracy. While each portrait is distinctive, they visually connect through the shared black velvet backdrop and chiaroscuro lighting, linking each individual to the collective; perhaps encouraging a commitment to stand together and face the darkness in the shelter of each other.