conmigo misma: first experiments with self-portraiture
© Julieta Salgado
these pictures are very emotional for me.
on the one hand, all of the negatives and original prints from this time period were lost along with my first portfolio around 2006, which broke my heart in a way no lover ever has. translation: i’ll never be able to recreate these images, reprint them in a darkroom. the sole surviving contact sheet above leaves me wishing i could re-print these but it is totally impossible. this loss was my first true lesson on letting go and over the years photography has taught me that lesson well.
but most importantly, these images remind me of a younger, much sadder me at 21. many many things were happening to me during this time but i think the most salient detail is feminism, believe it or not.
you see, i was struggling with a patriarchy i could no longer accept passively in my culture(s). being from Brooklyn but also from Ecuador, ni de aquí ni de allá, i have always struggled with the hyphen in my identity by being too much of a gringa or too much of a spic, depending on where i was standing. but no matter where i have been, what culture and society i’ve belonged to, the struggle has always been marked and maintained by misogyny.
when i lived in Ecuador during this time i was surviving street harassment and rape culture on a daily basis and it did something really fucked up to me: it made me erase myself, make myself smaller in the hopes of evading attention. it was during this time that i also shaved my head completely bald. subconsciously i thought that by destroying a social marker of my gender, that i would save myself from the predatory male gaze (it didn’t work).
on the contact sheet above you can see i am wearing a black wig over my bald head and a little black dress with black heels. i am walking around the beautiful/haunted colonial neighborhood of Guápulo where i lived with the help of a friend who let me direct the photographs we were shooting.
i remember what i was thinking that day: i want to look feminine, i want to cover myself in dust and dirt, i want to destroy me and look hot while i do it, i want to be mine.
what does it have to do with feminism? well everything, now that i know the fucking word!! you see back then i had no community, no womyn i could be close to, no women’s studies classes (yet) to blow my mind and piss me off, i was very alone and very harassed and hated myself very much. my photo teacher also hated me and discouraged me from self portraiture, so i never showed her these in school. i thought my pictures were mediocre and that i could never be good enough, so i kept shrinking and shrinking myself… it’s taken me exactly this long to comfortably say “i’m a photographer” without apologizing.
i see me here and i wish i could celebrate me! tell me i’m fucking cool, tell me that my art matters and that feminism is not an foreign affectation and that i’m not “asking for it” just by being alive in the world, i would help me cut men on the streets (maybe), i would validate and protect me.
people who are intimate with me know that i’m very critical of selfie culture at times, but lately i have been won over by talks of selfies as a healing process. and i am feeling that to the fullest tonight.
my photo process of choice is slow, uncertain, full of hopes, destined to wait in boxes until the images make sense somewhere: on a wall, on a blog, in your hands.
in this same way, here i am, posting selfies, writhing a little and trying to forgive the girl i was, delivering me to me in these few images.
Flash Back Friday: portraits of the artist as a voluntary ex-pat in the motherland