There is something to be said of context and how that effects and reflects an individual. Does standing next to someone in a photograph change who I am to the viewer? How much does that relationship inform the thoughts of the viewer, let alone my own thoughts of the situation? And am I any different when placed in a different locale? These are questions I kept with me as I worked on ‘Of Seventeen,’ a 17 piece postcard collage series. (To be clear, I am 30 in the photos, not seventeen. The title refers to the number of postcards.)
The captured image has always struck me as a very powerful medium. A still earmarking a moment in time, one that is remembered, usually, by all persons involved. But what of the actual story? What of the experience of that moment? While the lens serves as a forever detached and neutral eye, the mind of the subject is inarguably subjective.
These photographs are ones my Grandmother took at Christmas several years ago when I went to visit my family. She is the self nominated documentarian of the family and her photos arrive in the mail with seasonal frequency. For the most part, they are viewed once before being filed away with the others. These, though, I held on to. They were sitting on my desk for a good while when one day I decided to pick up a pair of scissors and make the first cut.
At first, the act of cutting a family photo seemed blasphemous. I half expected my Abuela to call up and scold me. But the phone remained silent and in that quiet I began the work on what became, essentially, a self portrait. One that focuses on the relationship between self and surroundings, stripping away the evident top layer of the collective experience and exposing the fanciful underworld of the personal experience. It is an exercise in retelling. And, I will admit, there was a large dose of catharsis involved in the practice of cutting myself out of family photos and placing myself in Hawaii (Haleakala National Park, to be exact).
Upon viewing the completed series, a dear friend commented to me on the deep solitude she felt was a theme that threaded through them all. ‘Tis the nature of self portraits,’ I tossed back to her and immediately realized the error in that statement. ‘Tis the nature of this self portrait’ is a more accurate statement. But know this, that it is that very solitude, that pristine, uninhabited landscape, that has enabled me to connect with my greater self, my core identity. And from that sure footed space comes the willingness and desire to identify with the greater collective.
ilvs strauss is a Seattle based, queer, mixed-race writer, performer, mixed media artist, and lighting designer. Her work has been shown at Odyssey Idea Gallery, On the Boards, Northwest Film Forum, Century Ballroom, Seattle Repertory’s Leo K Theater, and Bumbershoot Music Festival. As a Lighting Designer and Technical Director, she has worked for Salt Horse, the Cherdonna and Lou Show, the Pat Graney Company, and LINGO dancetheater.