“Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted,” wrote Susan Sontag in her famous essay On Photography (1977). “Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution”. This, decades before the onslaught of social media, before Instagram and the selfie. This is definitely not the case with Elle Pérez’ work, which, though contemporary, travels through time, through America’s futures and pasts. Portraits like Ian 2017/2018 and Kirsten 2015 are vivid and veracious, moments in the lives of those with whom Pérez is acquainted or becomes acquainted and, through that relationship, bares their soul. Whether invited into the fold through familial connections, friendship or social media messaging, Pérez elicits deep emotional states from the photos’ subjects. But we are not voyeurs; we are invited into the image to ponder the light, the dark or the shifting, evanescent scene.
C& América Latina: Tell me more about the shift from a horizontal to a vertical orientation in your photographs.
Elle Pérez: I was talking to someone and they observed that it made sense in my previous work to use a horizontal orientation. It seemed to fit in with the theatricality of the subjects, so it made sense that it was like a film still or a theatre production. And then, when thinking about the body, the focus shifts, it makes sense that something would mimic the form of the body, the up and down movement. I thought that was pretty astutely observed and I can’t believe that I didn’t see that before. (Laughs). I was grateful for them solving my mystery. I think that’s an interesting way of thinking about it and it certainly feels true to my interests. I think that working with portraiture for so long, the western art historical aspects of that process have embedded themselves into my unconscious. I had been unconsciously reproducing them and that’s why it felt right, because that formal change happened alongside my deepening interest in thinking about the body.