Around the world women live very different lives. Many try to balance work and family, while others devote themselves to a singular calling. When Venezuelan photographer Mariliana Arvelo came to New York in 2002, she stayed at the Centro Maria, a residence for young women run by Catholic nuns from Spain and Latin America. Slowly she got to know them and began photographing them. Here are some of her images and thoughts on the project.
“My first reaction was to the contrast between the residence and its chaotic environs in the area of midtown Manhattan known as Hell’s Kitchen. I was planning to stay just a few weeks while I looked for an apartment, but this changed as I got to know the nuns who lived and worked there.”
“These nuns are full of stories, but are generally very closed with respect to their private lives. They work all day cooking, cleaning, fixing things, doing laundry, and praying. At first the nuns weren’t willing to let me photograph them. They didn’t understand why I would want to take their pictures.”
“But after living there a few months and building closer relationships with them, gradually I was able to take more and more photos. The focus of the project was to take the portraits in key spaces of the house, places where they were most, or places over which they felt a sense of ownership.”
Mariliana Arvelo is a Venezuelan photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. She is a graduate of the New England School of Photography, and her work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including the Art Forum program from the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University; the New England Photography Biennial at the Danforth Museum of Art; the Photographic Resource Center exhibition DOCUMENT (Boston); the ARC Gallery (Chicago), and the Soho Photo Gallery (New York).
Arvelo has published work in the the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, the magazine ReVista, Harvard Review of Latin America, and the Annual International Photography Awards Book No.6.
She is also the owner of a successful photography business called Stylish & Hip Kids Photography, and for the past five years has led the photography program for seniors at The Hope Gardens Senior Center in New York City. She has served as an artist in residence at The Creative Center at University Settlement, teaching cancer survivors, and in 2013, taught children’s workshops in Calcutta, India.
– Catherine Kirkpatrick
This year or maybe last, origins being somewhat fuzzy, Professional Women Photographers celebrated its 40th anniversary. Officially the start was 1975, but it was probably 1976 when it really got going. Participants from the landmark FIT show, Breadth of Vision: Portfolios of Women Photographers, began to meet. Sometimes they spoke about prints, sometimes about job leads, and sometimes they nursed bruises received trying to fight their way into the field. If it’s tough now, it was worse then. They tell stories of sweeping up in the darkroom after men, of being shoved during shoots, of hands clapped over their lenses so the guy could get the shot. In college, I went to Olden to buy a camera and the salesman demanded to see my bank book to prove I could pay for it. Young and stupid, I showed it to him.
Things change, sometimes for the better. Sure, we have problems now. We work a job then come home and work some more. We care for old people as well as children. We don’t make as much money. And around the world, far too many struggle for basic human rights.
But freedom cannot be untasted. Wherever we need to go, we should think of how far we’ve come, and of those who paved the way. Take a moment and think about the women in your life. Think about their strength, how much they’ve accomplished, how they brighten the world.
The sisters are doing it–for themselves and everybody else. They’re going where the music–their own music–takes them, singing their song, making their own kind of pictures. And during this special month, we salute them.
– Catherine Kirkpatrick
Julia Riddiough is an artist and the founder of A Brooks Art, a not-for-profit artist-led gallery which was housed in a regenerated Victorian florist shop in East London. The program drew new audiences to the area, showcasing the value of art and the role it can play in transforming lives. After two years of delivering work described as “truly provocative” and “meaningful,” A Brooks Art is now in the process of evolution. Its future plans include overseas artist residencies, online and virtual projects, UK regional creative enterprises, as its physical space in London closes.
Riddiough’s personal work has been exhibited internationally, and examines the space between fact and fiction, meaning and perception, often referencing the representation and portrayal of women. In recent years, she has also focused on men, doing residencies in that hallowed male space: the barber shop.
PWP: How did the project come about?
JR: Strangely I was drawn to a Barber Shop where I used to live as I was interested in the images of male models that hung in the window. I went in several times to ask if I could buy them but the answer was always no. I began to realize that each time I entered the shop, I was stepping into an entirely male domain. On one occasion, I spied some magazines left on the side and I asked the barber if I could take a peek. The magazines were called “Men’s Passion,” and featured the models from the windows but in a magazine format. There were also ads for Barber Shops and one caught my eye called “My Vice is Hair.” This immediately gave me the idea to start a project, so I rented the magazines from the barber for £20, and re photographed the ones that looked interesting. That was in 2010 as the magazines were out of print. It was not until 2013 that I started to think about the representation of men and reversing the “Male” gaze.
Next came the idea to make a film about masculinity using these images. I needed a script, which I then wrote after much research talking to men and going to Men’s Festivals! When the film Clip Cut Gel was finished, another artist suggested Artist Residencies in Barber Shops! So I thought this would be a great idea to get feedback, give men a voice and get into the male space for my project. I did three residencies in three Barber Shops alongside three art festivals where the film was also shown. I gathered feedback by asking three questions of men as they got their hair cut:
1. What are the pleasures and challenges of being a man?
2. Tell me a Barber Shop story
3. If you ruled the world what would it look like? The replies were very revealing, touching and insightful and I felt privileged to be able share these stories.
PWP: The images seem to show men in a way we don’t usually think of them, in a vulnerable light. Can you talk about this, and how it speaks to the human experience?
JR: When men enter the Barber Shop they feel relaxed and at home–this is their space, men together, sharing a joke, their problems and shooting the breeze, feeling safe. Although some are still guarded, this is where they feel they can be themselves in a social atmosphere. This lends itself to a particular freedom and confiding in the Barber, feeling free to do so, often laying-bare. Men are also in a transitional space in the barbershop wanting to transform themselves from their current state into a groomed and well-turned out man. It’s this space and these moments that their vulnerability is sometimes visible whilst their transformation takes place.
PWP: Tell us one specific moment/moments in the barbershop that really got you.
JR: I was very lucky to be able to photograph in the Barber Shop practically carte blanche but this meant building trust and respect with everyone, being genuine, honest and upfront. I made sure that I was communicating person-to-person, giving space and time to each individual. In conversations it became a two way street and that was key. One chap was sitting in the chair and I was beside him standing up looking at him in the mirror and he said, “I have been coming here Man and Boy and I have seen my life go by in this chair.” With that a tear sprung to his eye which also set me off and we had a little moment together. That was completely unexpected and extremely special. We are all vulnerable, including men, but they are not often given the space to be so.
PWP: What did you learn from the project, and what would you like to communicate about the experience to others?
JR: I had a wonderful and rare opportunity, and was welcomed by all who took part and generously gave their time and stories. I felt privileged to be given a window on a world we perhaps would not usually see. I learnt a great deal about loneliness, humility and dignity, and the so-called ‘War of the Sexes’ (a social and media construct in plain sight and reinforced in the culture around us). Some men feel as lost as we women and only want to be understood and valued for being human. We are all struggling!
March is Women’s History Month, a time to think about the immense contribution of women to all aspects of society in cultures all over the world. They truly hold up half the sky. Throughout March, Professional Women Photographers will take a look at the work and contributions of women artists. Today we are honored to present British artist Sadie Hennessy.
In 2010, Hennessy won the Jealous Graduate Art Prize for her final MA show (Accident & Emergency) at Central St. Martins. In 2011, she was artist-in-residence in the Croydon College of Art printmaking department, which culminated in a solo show called Freud in Dreamland at the Parfitt Gallery in January 2012. She exhibited work at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011), Crunch Art Festival (2011), London Art Fair (2011) and Strange Hungers WW Gallery, EC1 (2012). She is currently Artist-in-Residence at Resort Studios, Margate.
PWP: Why is photography important in art and how is it being used in more than a “pure,” stand alone way?
SH: I think these days everyone thinks of themselves as a photographer, as we all document and curate so much of the minutiae of our everyday lives (using, mainly, the cameras in our phones). If something hasn’t been photographed, it almost didn’t happen. Perhaps that is why artists are doing other things with photographs, alongside pure photography–to push the form in other, less accessible directions. Personally, I am interested in old photos and found images, as they seem to have an inherent authenticity and carry a freight of unanswered questions–that appeals to me. I try and create images that reflect on contemporary life whilst simultaneously embodying a sense of nostalgia, so collage (digital and analogue) created using old photos works very well for me.
PWP: Can you tell us about the technique of photographic screenprinting?
SH: Yes, this is a four-color screenprinting process that only uses cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink (CMYK)–the same process as color newspaper printing (for example). I usually create my images in Photoshop (digitally), though sometimes make screenprints from scissors-and-glue collages too, which I photograph. When the image is ready, I convert it to 4 layers in Photoshop–the CMYK separations–and each of these is printed onto acetate. I then expose 4 separate screens (one for each layer) and print them in the following order: yellow, magenta, cyan and black. With luck the end result is quite photographic, but still clearly a hand-made print, due to the quality of the paper and the inks. I was initially inspired by Andy Warhol’s photographic screenprints, though his use a different technique than the one I’ve described. His most famous works tended to mix stencil printing with a single, black photographic layer.
PWP: Tell us how your work relates to issues of gender?
SH: I consider myself to be a feminist artist, and all my work relates to the way I see the world as a woman. As I get older, I am particularly interested in portraying the experience of aging as a woman, in our youth-obsessed society. I use a lot of humor in my work, and hope I make my political points in both a thought-provoking and humorous way.
(Note: Hennessy’s work also explores darker themes as in the following triptych which reflects on the misogynistic phenomenon of acid attacks on women’s faces.)
– Catherine Kirkpatrick, Blog Editor
As this image from Darleen Rubin’s exhibition Before the Garden shows, the NYC “Save Our Libraries” campaign has been around for decades. But never was it more glamorous than in 1974 when it was graced by the New York Dolls.
In this exhibit, Rubin, who has been photographing her West Village neighborhood for many years, focuses on change at the Jefferson Market Library. There are images of the dismantling of the infamous women’s house of detention next door, the garden that replaced it, and the NY Dolls performance. A must for students of city history and change.
Free. Through Feb. 25. At Jefferson Market Library (425 Sixth Ave., at 10th St.). Mon./Wed 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues./Thurs. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Fri./Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m. For more info, visit nypl.org/events/exhibitions.