My Alter Ego Has No Shame: Monica Orozco in conversation with Savannah Spirit

Undercurrent Projects
Apr 28, 2018 7:55PM

Monica Orozco speaks to Savannah Spirit about her career, future plans and what it’s like to  quit your day job to be an artist. "I was a bit lost in my 20's... For the art that I create I needed to be of a certain age, and I also think it  is the perfect time in history, as well. Female voices are being heard. I’m actually thrilled to see what I will be creating as I get older. Right now I feel that I’m prepping myself for the artist that I’m suppose to become, and I feel that in my 50’s/60s is when my work will thrive."

Savannah Spirit, curator of WOMAN, speaks to Monica Orozco, LA based self-portrait photographer and artist in the show about her career, future plans and what it’s like to jump off the ledge and quit your day job to be an artist.

Savannah Spirit: Your series “Mid-Century Crisis,” three images of which are included in WOMAN, originated as special commission for Palm Springs Modernism Week. While shooting the work it seemed you found yourself confronted with certain issues of being single during a time, which women are “expected to be married with children,” you found a way to turn the commission into art, allowing a relatable experience for a woman who is going through it herself. Can you talk about the switch from, “Oh this is a job for a client” to “Oh this is about me in my life?”

Monica Orozco: It was a little of both I was actually going through a really rough patch in my life when I had to shoot the “Mid-Century Crisis” series. It was the first time in my life where I experienced depression and anxiety for an extended period of time. I hated everything about myself. I was trying to navigate my life as a working artist while in an unhealthy relationship. As you can imagine, It's extremely hard to shoot self-portraits when you can't stand yourself. The camera picks up everything, and the initial idea of shooting "happy, colorful fun portraits" wasn't cutting it. When I look back, I’m glad that I had a project and a deadline. An exhibit had to go up and it forced me to focus and get it done. I remember thinking, "Fuck it. I'm a mess, but that is life." I'm glad I captured that period. It reminds me that I can survive any dark clouds that appear in my future. Plus, I believe I produced some of my strongest images to this day.

SS: We just met in February while at FreshstART in LA and it was an immediate connection. I knew you were perfect for this exhibition. The image you were showing that night was an homage to Cindy Sherman. That’s a tough one to do seeing she’s the mother of the self-portrait of our generation. Though you execute this series with a real sensitivity to all these prolific artists and photographers. What was it that sparked this series? I find it fascinating.

MO: The series payed homage to my favorite artists and stemmed from my Photo a Day Project that started in 2012. I had been using words/themes off of an online list for a couple of years and got bored of it, so I started asking friends for themes. The project was always meant to be playful, but a shift happened in 2014. The work suddenly became more meaningful when the new images became inspired by the individual people who gave me the word/theme. The process got more personal. I started looking up iconic images that the friend would relate to. Mainly it became a dedication to both a friend and a master artist. It was the best way to teach myself from the best. It had to sit down and really observe these images. Trying to imitate them was much harder than what you would think. There is so much involved, lighting, angles, composition, etc. "Arrival," my homage to Cindy Sherman, was shot for the “Marrakesh Series” (2015), my first major exhibit in Los Angeles. It was my way to say thank you to Cindy Sherman for inspiring me to use myself as a subject. When shooting this portrait, I clearly remember declaring myself a self-portrait artist to the universe. It became a commitment to myself.

SS: I love that you learned how to do it from the masters. So important to know who came before and how we got to where we are now. What are some of the important lessons you've picked up along the way? Where do you see your career in 10 years from now?

MO: The masters, from the beginning they were very present and I’m grateful for all the inspiration they have given me.  My first intro was during a History of Photography class. There I learned the importance of knowing the history of what you love. All those images are still stored in my head, and I still keep collecting them. Also, at SMC the professors loved assigning the students the project of emulating the images they  connected with. It was such a great exercise that made more sense as I got older. When you sit down to observe an iconic image and all it’s details, there is so much to learn. Composition, mood, angles, lighting, capturing a specific moment in history, etc. You know, Savannah, this all still seems pretty new to me. For the art that I create I needed to be of a certain age, and I also think it  is the perfect time in history, as well. Female voices are being heard. I’m actually thrilled to see what I will be creating as I get older. Right now I feel that I’m prepping myself for the artist that I’m suppose to become, and I feel that in my 50’s/60s is when my work will thrive. There is just so much to say.

SS: Can you tell me about how you got into photography?

MO: I was a bit lost in my 20s. Didn’t really have a plan and wasn’t interested in much (besides having a good time). I did get to meet some pretty fabulous people while waiting tables though, and I imagine it’s like this in many big cities. The waitstaff always seems to consist of students/artists/actors/musicians, and I was very lucky to experience art through them. That’s how I met my friend Jeff Steelman. He is a great designer, worked from home, made great money and loved his job. I decided I wanted that lifestyle so I took a graphic design class. I quickly found out that I sucked at design, but in that class we were required to use a manual film camera. It was pretty instantaneous - my love affair with that camera. I loved seeing the world through that rectangular viewfinder. So there I was, two years shy of 30, I found my calling. I lucked out going to Santa Monica College where they have the best photo program with caring, passionate professors.

SS: You're in the LA Art community and are quite known, what were the steps you took to get your work out into the world?

MO: One thing that helped me was posting my Photo a Day series on a daily basis since the day it started, June 1st, 2012. People have seen my work, they’ve seen me grow as an artist throughout the years. They have followed my alter ego deMonica, who has no shame and they like rooting for her. I’m sure you understand, you are after all one of my favorite contemporary self-portrait photographers out there. Taking portraits of yourself, you have to open yourself to the world, step outside and become a character.

SS: Do you have any advice to impart to young artists who are trying to break out into the art scene in their communities?

MO: Just do it! So many times we stop ourselves because we feel that we are not good enough. Fuck that. This is what this project has taught me. Play, let go and share. Be consistent. Make yourself do it even though you don’t want to sometimes. Have fun. Surround yourself with like-minded people.  They will lift you up when you need that extra push.

Savannah Spirit's projects have been reviewed in numerous publications including LA Weekly, Forbes, Vice, W Magazine, Dazed,Bullett, Hype, Billboard, THE Magazine, Huffington Post, New York Magazine and D/railed. Savannah joins the fourth wave feminists addressing body-positivity, the female gaze, objectification and censorship, especially on social media. Her solo show in 2017, Nevertheless, She Persisted, at Mulherin New York, presented her uncensored pin-ups and black and white work out of the confines of social media where they have been repeatedly flagged and censored. Savannah was interviewed recently on the National Coalition Against Censorship's Arts Advocacy podcast. As an activist, Savannah has dedicated her time to photographing important civil rights issues since 2012 including Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, People's Climate March, Anti-Trump protests and the Women's March. Savannah's activist work has been published inThe Abolitionist and The Nation. Since 2011, Savannah has curated NYC's celebrated erotic art show series,Hotter Than July™. HOTTER THAN JULY: Hands Off My Cuntry was featured on German television's 3sat arts and culture program alongside fellow artist Deborah Kass. She works and lives in New York City, Los Angeles and Guadalajara, MX.

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