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Issue No. 16 - Chaos

Woman Crush Wednesday: Interview with Lissa Rivera

Woman Crush Wednesday: Interview with Lissa Rivera

By Riley Ryan-Wood

© Lissa Rivera, White Carpet Odalisque, Family Home, Beautiful Boy, 2015

© Lissa Rivera, White Carpet Odalisque, Family Home, Beautiful Boy, 2015

MUSÉE: In your description of Beautiful Boy, you mention that there are women that you and your partner “connect to” and “idolize.” Are these influences different for you and your partner?

LR: BJ is a musician, and music is a huge part of both of our lives. Although one could argue it’s not in the photographs, I think that we are trying to harness the kind of vulnerability and power that you might hear in the voice of Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield or Bessie Smith. The sensuality, power and drama in their voices portray raw power that transcends gender. Setting aside his personal life, Phil Spector’s music is queer in a sense; he needed Ronnie Spector’s voice to project a complicated feminine fantasy.

Visually, we are interested in the desire that can be transmitted between artist and muse, when the muse becomes a vessel to manifest a shared fantasy. This is a very intimate experience. You can see this happening in films by Bergman with Liv Ullman. Sometimes it veers towards obsession, and the unpossessable with Clouzot and Romy Schneider, or Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren. Others include Dietrich or Deneuve, who were the muses of their eras. Watching these films you can’t help but feel desire oozing through the celluloid. But we are not restricted to filmic inspiration; it can be any image that snags us. I find this in all art. When an image is presented seductively, it seduces all.

M: Your work has a nostalgic feel and the outfits appear to denote a bygone era. Can you elaborate on this choice? How do you think more modern clothing and sets would have altered the conceptual meaning of the series?

LR: I am drawn to textures and colors that evoke certain memories or emotions. Like that complex shade of red-orange from the 1930s that you don’t see anymore, or that brilliant, luminescent jade green that was big in the 40s, or a Catholic shade of ‘Madonna’ blue. I love the shot in Kenneth Anger’s ‘Puce Moment’ when he parades the colorful silent-era film costumes before the lens, shaking the fringe provocatively, the chosen dress falls onto the actress and posesses her. I use photography as a tool to touch those images I love. How many photography students copy Stephen Shore when they first use color? They are not photographing the contemporary landscape, but copying an image they have seen because it holds some kind of power over them. I want to be frank about the fact that it is that image-power that possesses us. I’ve always been interested in artists playing with nostalgia, from Joseph Cornell to Bruce Conner.

© Lissa Rivera, Poolside, Family Home, Beautiful Boy, 2015

© Lissa Rivera, Poolside, Family Home, Beautiful Boy, 2015

M: Can you speak more to the collaborative relationship between you and your partner in creating the photographs?

LR: This project reveals the muse as collaborator. When I show the work, I get so many questions about BJ’s life. Who is he? How does he feel about this? What is his role? If I were a man presenting images of a female partner, those questions about the model might never come up. It reveals the codependency between artist and muse. Because we are so invested in the image making, we talk about our ideas and desires often. We research together, browsing through a stack of books, or watching films. I gather costumes and fabrics, in which BJ enrobes himself, projecting out the layers of influence we had washed ourselves in in preparation.  

© Lissa Rivera, Yellow Hair, Beautiful Boy, 2015

© Lissa Rivera, Yellow Hair, Beautiful Boy, 2015

M: You explore identity not only through clothing but through the lack of it with the photographs of your partner nude or semi-nude — a sort of cross-dressing sans “dressing.” What do you hope to convey with the inclusion of these images to the series?

LR: I was looking to convey transformation, the shedding and reinvention of identity. The nudes still rely on accessories and pose to express femininity. By displaying the body in different states of undress, we are exposing the body as both masculine and feminine without the need to fully pass as one or the other.

© Lissa Rivera, Legs, Beautiful Boy, 2015

© Lissa Rivera, Legs, Beautiful Boy, 2015

The WCW Questionnaire:

How would you describe your creative process in one word? Observational

If you could teach one, one-hour class on anything, what would it be? Therapeutic transformative portraiture for anyone.

What was the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you? ‘Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati’ by Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino. Also, re-watching ‘The Mirror’ by Andrei Tarkovsky.

What is the most played song in your iTunes Library? ‘Mystic Lady’ by T Rex

How do you take your coffee? Black

Article © Riley Ryan-Wood

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