Laura Vela is a self-described Chicana multimedia and interdisciplinary artist from Texas, residing in Atlanta, GA. Her black & white photographs and photo collages of gauzy, faceless figures are tender yet forlorn. Juror Mary Stanley chose two of Laura's photos to be included in this year's Selects exhibition.
How did you first become interested in photography?
I’m not totally sure. I’ve always been interested in documenting. I used to keep journals, which also fulfilled that need for me. I moved onto utilizing photography when I began realizing how much of a visual person I am. Painting and utilizing photography are the same thing to me. I love that I can document a moment in life and be able to manipulate the image for other people to see it through my eyes/perspective.
You also paint and draw and use mixed media, sometimes all on your photographs, how important is photography to your work?
Photography is important for my work because it has always been the basis, no matter the medium. I used to exclusively be an oil painter, and my foundation to every painting was a photograph, so I have always valued it as a resource. I love photography for the instant gratification of being able to capture a moment in time. And I love painting for the ability it gives me to manipulate that image on canvas. They are both very important mediums to me, and I love that I can decide if I feel a certain subject matter and composition work better as a work of art in a photograph or in a painting, or as both!
The two photos selected by Mary Stanley for Selects have white patterns and shapes painted or scratched on them. Can you describe your post-process?
Yes, so the drawing on the photographs are scratched onto the final photo. It was a way of allowing myself room to do something potentially damaging to a piece which I spent so much time on. It was a freeing process, as well as a way to further manipulate an image and moment in time.
The people and places depicted in your work seem to be in between worlds. Does mystery appeal to you? Are we the viewer meant to solve the mystery or appreciate the uncertainty?
Mystery and mysticism are very important to me and my work. I grew up catholic, however, now I am non practicing. Religious imagery is an integral part of my mother’s culture and in turn mine. It is a sort of imagery that is rooted in me and the way I see things. My work for a few years now has been about my mother and finding a balancing ground where I do not have to comprise who I am and my beliefs to have a healthy relationship with her and make her proud. She is old school, traditional Mexican and came to the U.S when she was 8 months pregnant with me. She raised me in the suburbs of Georgia, so my life has been completely different than hers. She was raised in an environment where women were not encouraged to be their own. She gave up her homeland for me, and has not returned to it for the same number of years as I have been alive. My mother’s culture is so much a part of me because it is something that she raised me under, however I do not feel like I can claim it, for so many reasons.
So yes, my work is very much about being in two worlds. I am 24 and still trying to find myself in my mother’s culture without being ashamed of who I am, when I am immersed in it. Being raised in the U.S changes everything, and it’s hard to explain that to a woman who doesn’t speak english, who comes from a different place, and still feels like a second class citizen in the place where you come from. It’s an interesting dynamic that a lot of kids of immigrant families have to figure out for themselves. Finding a way of making your families proud of who you are and what you do, after they sacrificed their countries for you to have the freedom to create.
What role does the face play in your work?
I exclude the face from most of my work. I don’t want my work to be portraits just because there is a figure in the piece. Excluding/masking the face allows the viewer to hold the uncertainty to conclude that the figure in the piece could be anyone.
Why black & white photography?
Utilizing black and white photography was sort of incidental for me in this series. I was working with film and had access to a dark room which only housed the resources to develop and print black and white. However, I am in love with the outcome. It resulted in such a dark, mystical, sultry series of photographs of a real place, that doesn’t look like real life at all. They’re from a dream.
Seen any good movies, lately?
Honestly, I don’t think so. The last movie I watched was Fifty Shades of Grey, to see what all the hype was about. So NOT good!