The faces of the women in photographer Aydinaneth Ortiz’s most recent series, Hija de tu Madre, are smiling, self-confident, thoughtful, grim, dreamy — expressions you will encounter in people around the United States and everywhere else in the world. In these family photos, showing at Foto Forum Santa Fe through August, Ortiz celebrates migrant family relationships.
“It started off with my mother and my sister and myself, and I expanded it to more than a dozen other migrant mothers and their daughters as a positive representation to compare with our current president not speaking well about migrants,” said Ortiz, who goes by “Aydi.”
With each triptych or other grouping of individual portraits of mother and daughters, Ortiz includes the mother’s birthplace and the year she emigrated to the United States. “I don’t include more context. I feel that these portraits can stand alone. You can see they’re happy to be here and they’re proud. There’s no difference between any race. We can have some cultural difference but we can be united.”
The series is also all about the art of portraiture and using old-school materials and techniques, which she loves. She uses a 4 x 5 view camera, shoots on black-and-white film in natural light, and also prints her own work in a darkroom. “I want the highest quality, but I also like how film slows me down, and I feel that’s especially effective when I’m doing portraits. People relax when it takes me a while to set up the camera.
“I go to their home and photograph there. I don’t tell anyone how to dress or how to pose. They know I’m coming, and I just tell them to wear whatever they’re most comfortable with. I don’t want them playing to a role, pretending to be someone else.”
Ortiz was born in Long Beach, California, in 1987. She earned a bachelor of arts degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, and her MFA in photography at the California Institute of the Arts. Besides photography, she also has a love for printmaking and teaches it in workshops with high-school students. Ortiz is one of the teaching artists at artworxLA, an organization with the mission to lower the high-school dropout rate by engaging students in long-term arts programs.
Hija de tu Madre is just one dimension of the multifarious Foto Forum exhibition. The other components all relate to an intense event that happened in her family: In 2013, she lost her youngest brother, Geovany, at the hands of another brother, Israel, who suffers from schizophrenia. A year later, she started her photographic series California State Mental Hospitals. The inadequate mental-health support experienced by her family in the months following their tragedy fueled that project. Interestingly, the photos in the series are distinctly architectural in character, focusing on buildings and building details.
The Foto Forum show also includes photographic prints in her Ingredients series. “My brother suffers from schizophrenia and depression, and he self-medicates with crystal meth. I decided to look into it and found out about these ingredients that are readily available. I decided to make them ‘in your face,’” she said.
The pristine shots of containers of brake fluid, camp-stove fuel, antifreeze, and other commercially available substances look like still lifes: a disturbing variant on the curvaceous vase brimming with lovely flowers. “I wanted it to be confrontational, and you can read the labels and the warning signs, and people are putting these very dangerous combinations into their bodies.
“I put them against black backdrops because I wanted to take them away from commercial photography and product photography, and also because it’s a dark subject. I also approached photographing them like portraiture.”
In the gallery space, surrounded by the Ingredients photos, is a re-creation of Israel’s bedroom, complete with a bare mattress spray-painted with the word hogar (Spanish for “home”) and littered with broken light bulbs and other detritus.
Hogar is also the name of this exhibition. Another of its elements is small but potent: an artist book, La Condición de la Familia, that she made as she was trying to cope with what happened, and also to connect with other people who have dealt with loss.
In telling the story of the book, Ortiz said that, before the killing, she was already using art as an escape. “I fell in love with the darkroom. It was like my little oasis away from the problems at home. And then when that happened with my brothers in the summer and I came back to school in the fall, I took a documentary class with [UCLA professor of photography] Catherine Opie. But I didn’t see the photos in the book, which are just a collection from my own archive and our family archive, as a project. I just knew I needed to do something about it. That’s all I could think about.
“Of course, I was looking at artists like Diane Arbus and Larry Clark. Some of their work can be a little bit controversial, but I thought they were being very honest about their personal experience, and I needed to be honest about mine, right? It was very therapeutic for me, because I forced myself to confront these issues that were going on.
La Condición de la Familia is not available online, she said, because it is very personal, but in Santa Fe, “I felt like giving more context to my work, so I decided to include it in this exhibition.”
The challenge of making the book was assembling the various photographic images to tell a story. There is no text — the only word-related inclusion is a scanned copy of the restraining order against Israel, which she said she felt was necessary in order for the viewer “to really understand my story.” ◀
▼ Aydinaneth Ortiz: Hogar
▼ Foto Forum Santa Fe, 1714 Paseo de Peralta
▼ Through August; closing reception 5-7 p.m. Aug. 30
▼ 505-470-2582, fotoforumsantafe.com