Ilona Szwarc's series Unsex Me Here focuses on staged transformations based on personal experiences, shared here as part of Photography+ #4 Staged.
Could you explain your practice in a few sentences?
My work comes from my life experiences of being a woman and an immigrant. I start from there, and then I look for characters (either real or imagined), details, and spaces – vessels to communicate those ideas, conflicts, and stories. Having lived through several identity crises occasioned by immigration and displacement, I consciously and subconsciously readjust and compose myself. I am always switching between different expressions and personalities depending on what language I am speaking, but never arrive at a fixed identity. My work is about the process of becoming, and about what it takes to shape a self. I translate identity into a site of continuous negotiation of the subject.
What one thing has most helped to shape your practice?
Recently I moved to LA, which opened up a whole universe of materials that has significantly affected my work. LA is a city of splendid white teeth, long eyelashes, activewear, pet cloning, and self-care regimens. It is also the home of Hollywood, special-effects makeup, and massive prop houses.
Why photography? Why the still image?
Early on, I was equally interested in film and photography, but now I prefer the pause that a still image can offer. I am also invested in the amount of control that I have over the still image. That said, through the use of special-effects makeup, props, and collaborations with actors, I incorporate elements of film production into my photographic practice.
Where do your ideas begin?
My ideas begin with reading, which is a big part of my studio practice. I also collect books about makeup techniques for stage and film and vintage photography books, in which I search for imagery that I could reimagine. A lot of ideas also stem from learning about different materials and shopping for props. Often images come from my memories. My work is an account of life with a lot of fiction.
My two most recent bodies of work – I am a woman and I feast on memory and Unsex me here – represent the current direction of my practice. The processes of becoming and transformation, of mimicry translated through techniques and aspects of film production, are currently at the core of my interests.
For more from #4 Staged click here.
For more of Ilona’s work click here.