MONICA OROZCO: PHOTO-A-DAY
October 15 – November 29, 2015
As the subject of her own photography, Monica Orozco references the worlds of fashion and the current obsession with self-obsession: selfies. Recalling the pioneering conceptual portraiture of Cindy Sherman, she makes self-portraits that portray a range of characters. Other times, a totally unique personality emerges: the photographer’s alter ego: deMonica.
As a SoCal native and self-described “Valley Girl,” deMonica incorporates many layers of the Los Angeles experience, including themes related to her Mexican-American heritage and the glamorous iconography of Hollywood history. In the Photo-a-Day series, her accompanying captions often give the images a completely different life, separate from the photographic subject, detouring from the expected to the esoteric. Traditional portrayals of women as the object of the male gaze are undermined with humor and buffo antics. Fashion imagery (like Shaw’s), is appropriated, and scenes depicting a life of upper-class ease are re-inhabited by the rambunctious deMonica.
With her Marrakesh series, shot on location at a historic Palm Desert home built by famed Hollywood Regency architect John Elgin Woolf, deMonica took inspirational cues from the designer’s 50s and 60s heyday and playfully rifted on the vibrant color schemes and fashionable modern interiors. The sessions required the inclusion of whimsical props, costume changes and a collection of dramatic wigs. Design, fashion and photography have long gone hand-in-hand with some of the most memorable artistic collaborations of the last century. With this new series, deMonica hopes to capture a small slice of a vivid, romantic and style-forward era that often informs her broader creative journey.
During the first half of the 20th century, American artists began to turn to photography as a medium. In the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, California Pictorialism was particularly popular. Many of the photographers of this time were associated with camera clubs that championed this genre, such as the San Francisco-based California Camera Club and the Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles. Stereotypically known for an interest in hazy landscapes, picturesque genre scenes and narrative portraits that mimicked Impressionist art, a certain number of these artists demonstrated a modernist influence, such as attention to urban and industrial subjects, abstract composition, and manipulation of images in the darkroom — all precedents to what we have come to understand today as contemporary photography.
Monica Orozco, a Los Angeles-based artist, in Photo – A – Day, explores photography’s power to redefine place by fabricating compelling fantasies and illusions. These conceptual investigations share similarities with installation art and play with the quirkier intersections of art and life. This practice — pioneered by artists like Sandy Skoglund — is known as tableaux or directorial photography. Orozco clearly demonstrates a knack for storytelling through facial expressions and body language, her sense of style, and an extensive repertoire of convincing technical skills. Shot on location at 47329 Jadida, Marrakesh Country Club in Palm Desert, this new series of self-portraiture clearly proves Orozco’s mastery. It’s hard to be blasé when encountering her alter ego — deMonica — with her over-the-top psychodramas, and hard not to crack a smile or shake your head in disbelief as you realize you have known such characters yourself. Humor co-exists with anxiety, the banal with the neurotic. It is the control of this balance that lies at the core of Orozco’s work.
From the conception of the project, to the logistics of collecting wigs and fashions, through long stretches of production, to the final staging and the shoot — nothing is left to chance. This tedium is not a deterrent for Orozco. A freelance photographer since 2005, she has worked in the Aerospace industry for Boeing Satellite Systems as well as been active in celebrity/advertising photography assisting Matthew Rolston, whose clients include Estee Lauder and magazines such as Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and GQ. These incredibly diverse earlier jobs shed biographical light on the process, content, and intensity of her work.
From commercial photography Orozco has learned to meticulously craft the aura of perfection and the mastery of convincing illusions. The unrestrained deMonica creates for the viewer an open-ended scenario about the complexities of our culture through the raucous facades of her installations and photographic images.
Joe Baker, Curator
MARK SHAW and MONICA OROZCO
A Feminist Perspective
I don’t know why women want any of the things men have
when one of the things that women have is men.
― Coco Chanel
A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.
― Gloria Steinem
In her 1949 work, The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir famously asserts, “One is not born a woman, but rather becomes, a woman.” The idea that the roles traditionally ascribed to women are not biologically determined, but rather socially constructed, was a radical one at the time. De Beauvoir believed that, in a society created and controlled by men, women are relegated to being “the second sex,” and are taught what kind of roles they can and cannot fulfill. This gave rise to a new wave of feminist discourse regarding gender and identity that posed the question, “What makes a woman?”
In the years following World War II, fashion and advertising played a major role in defining the feminine ideal. Women took their cues from the glamorous images provided by photographers like Mark Shaw found in high fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vanity Fair. Shaw’s work also made its way into instructional women’s magazines such as McCall’s, Mademoiselle, and Ladies Home Journal, which provided the growing numbers of post-war suburban housewives a “how to” guide to fulfilling their roles as wife, mother and homemaker. Mark Shaw’s candid photographs of the Kennedy family published in LIFEmagazine coincided with the launch of the Feminist Movement in the 1960s, and women were presented with a new image of themselves and their burgeoning role in the modern world.
Today’s discussion of “What makes a woman?” is fraught with complexity and contradictions. In her 1990 book Gender Trouble, Judith Butler introduces the idea that both gender and sexuality are socially constructed and individually enacted, or “performed.” The performance of these constructs, and their slippages, is evidenced in the self-portraits of Monica Orozco. These photo-a-day selfies suggest complex narratives, while paying homage to the iconic celebrity portraits of Mark Shaw. With dramatic wigs and high fashion flair, Monica transforms into her alter ego, deMonica, and presents us with a spot-on parody of every stereotypical woman: the vixen, the coquette, the starlet, the housewife and the not-so-gay divorcee. With a dose of drag and a sprinkle of humor, Monica Orozco suggests that what makes a woman in her world is the freedom to be who and what she chooses.
Gail Phinney, Director of Education