“How L.A.’s Latinas Are Telling Their Own Stories Through Photography”
By: Eva Recinos
September 11, 2017
“She doesn’t understand why people like the picture. For her, it’s day to day trying to survive.”
Star Montana remembers staring out of a bus window as a child, taking in all the sights of L.A. at 40 miles per hour. Now, she talks to people on the streets about their stories before photographing them — a process she prefers over simply snapping their photo and walking away.
For a city that boasts such a large Latinx population, and one that constantly buzzes with excitement over new artists and art openings, the narratives of Latina women can often get lost.
One day, a woman named Mayra told her about a scuffle she’d been in, thus her black eye; she also nonchalantly pointed out the ankle injury she had from a gunshot wound. That encounter led to Montana’s photograph as well as the wall label next to it with a few sentences on the interaction.
For a city that boasts such a large Latinx population, and one that constantly buzzes with excitement over new artists and art openings, the narratives of Latina women can often get lost. “Dreaming of Los Angeles,” Montana’s solo show at the Main Museum, on view through Sept. 24, is an anomaly, an exception to a status quo that favors white photographers in the mainstream photography circuit. Photography serves as a powerful medium, a conduit for stories of Latinas as captured by Latinas.
David Evans Frantz and C. Ondine Chavoya, who curated “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.” opening Sept. 9 at ONE Gallery and MOCA Pacific Design Center, recognize the importance of photography in telling stories in Latinx and queer communities. The exhibition features photographs by Laura Aguilar, Elsa Flores, Judy Miranda and more from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. Aguilar’s “Plush Pony” series features queer subjects that she really “got to know” through her photography, as Chavoya explains. “Latina Lesbians” was all about “creating visible representations and role models of what it meant to be Latina and lesbian at that time.”
A series like this works to deconstruct stereotypes about specific groups — but even the process of getting these works proper exposure is an uphill battle for many Latina photographers. Aguilar is just now getting the first major survey of her work; other artists in “Axis Mundo” have yet to receive the recognition Chavoya and Frantz say they deserve.
“Pulling out Judy [Miranda]’s work and showing her photography is so important because it does provide history where there hasn’t really been early examples of Latina women in the field that are doing photography,” says Frantz. “That are capturing the community …”
Community becomes the throughline that can be traced from the work of artists featured in “Axis Mundo” to artists like Montana and the next generation of Latina photographers.
Montana’s exhibit inspired students at the nonprofit organization 826LA. For their weeklong writing workshop this summer, students ages 12 to 18 talked to Montana about her work and interviewed one another. They paired these responses with photos of themselves taken by Emily Blake, mimicking the layout of Montana’s show, in an exhibition at iam8bit.
“It makes it harder to generalize communities when their stories are individual.”
“During the workshop at the Main Museum, a student named Jackeline responded to the question, ‘What is the best advice you have ever received?’ by saying, ‘Have your face shown,’” Kenny Ng, programs coordinator at 826LA Echo Park, says via email. “It echoed Star’s portrait of Juan, who just wanted ‘to know he exists.'”
For Ng, the most important work lies in finding creative ways for students’ voices to be heard. If they have a space to display this kind of work, it means their stories have value.
“It makes it harder to generalize communities when their stories are individual,” Ng writes. “But in order for those stories to exist, we all have to actively create pathways for them in art and elsewhere that their voices are absent.”
Photos courtesy of Star Montana, Laura Aguilar, and Judy Miranda.