The Photography of Suzanne Gonsalez-Smith

Artist Statement

The imagery of my photographs and mixed media works contains the metaphor of memory and myth. Using the contemporary framework of my personal history I explore personal loss, religious and cultural identities, political and social insights along with the inescapable essence of mortality and everyday life.

Photography has a history of being linked to the recording of memory and therefore, also loss. The photographic image is a visual memory both real and fabricated in its design. It is capable of

expressing the duality of the moment: life and death, dark and light, loss and fulfillment. In documentation, the act of death or loss is often portrayed as either romantic or brutally Gothic.  Using actual physical remains (both animal and human) along with human hair I strive to address these issues. Often, symbolism is used to create a visual metaphor rich in this duality. In some of my work, childhood and death are referenced as  my visual interpretation of dealing with the loss of childhood innocence, abuse and even death that affects so many children in the United States and worldwide. This stems from the current events of the day that are filled with an endless stream of data pertaining to violence against children.

Using the beauty and innocence of childhood, such as bright colors and patterns, in combination with bones, broken and tattered toys, antique dolls and vintage photographs, art imitates life. These items are meant to represent children who have suffered these losses using the metaphor and beauty of what it means to be a child in conjunction with items that suggest loss, abuse or death. Often, these dilapidated dolls and toys used are manipulated further by working both in a subtractive and additive fashion to create a further sense of age or alteration. Compositions are created against hand-painted and collaged background panels that give a unique richness to each photograph. Each panel created contains several layers of children’s illustrations, vintage papers, acrylic paint, spackle and encaustic wax for added texture and pop of color. All of these materials are meant to reference the beauty of childhood. Animal bones, halos, cracks, and surface deterioration are all made to preserve the inevitability that all life is subject to the laws of mortality.

As an Hispanic artist I focus on the theme of memory and myth as personalized through my own cultural experience. In other series I use digital montage to reflect this duality of life. This can be expressed through my combining of elements of beauty with those of loss, death or decay. Using both traditional and cultural images of symbolism to further the narrative creates imagery that speaks of dreams, personal mythology, and the human experience. Death is often present through such symbolism as bones, halos, marks of decay, scratches, skulls and branches all made to preserve the inevitability that all life is subject to the laws of mortality. The use of this symbolism is a direct reference to the 17th century Vanitas paintings. Incorporating the use of the halo harkens back to my early childhood training in Catholicism. The bones give reference to the idea of our temporal existence and opens up the discussion for the creation of iconic imagery that focuses on the vitality as well as the ending of life. It is also a valid reminder of my Hispanic roots. Other cultural references are also used, such as Mesoamerican imagery and images of war from the 1910 – 1920 Mexican Revolution during the reign of my Great-Great Uncle, Pancho Villa of Mexico.

Suzanne Gonsalez-Smith

Lost Childhood: Cowboys and Indians

Lost Childhood: Cowboys and Indians