‘Next to Myself’ an Interview with Liliana Guzmán

Original interview published 12/13/2022

Courtesy Mirrored Society

Interviewed by Julian Lucas

Liliana Guzmán is an artist living and working in Bloomington, Indiana. In 2016, she graduated from Earlham College with a BA in Photography and French and Francophone Studies. Liliana received her MFA in Photography from Indiana University’s Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture, and Design in 2021. I had a chance to speak with Liliana about her photographic process. A part of her photographic practice focuses on multiple techniques through different mediums, including film photography and alternative, in addition to digital photography, painting, and drawing.

‘Communion Dress’ Courtesy of Liliana Guzmán

Can you tell me about your photographic emergence? When and how did you first become interested in photography? Do you have formal training?

I remember first starting to take photographs around eight years old. There is one vivid memory I have dressing up as all sorts of characters with my best friend at the time. We posed as fashion models, Broadway stars, spies, and even covered up head to toe in toilet paper as mummies. I would use these photos, cut them up, and collage them into my scrapbook. This early love of photography was part of the natural inclination I had to record moments that I didn’t want to forget once I got older.

Growing up my mother, who is also a photographer, was always taking photos. Her mother was a painter and so I like to think the joy and interest in visual arts moved in part through maternal generations.

As for formal training, I was introduced to darkroom film photography around 17 years old during a summer program at Earlham College. Excited with the whole process, I continued with film photography through college. With encouragement from my undergraduate faculty, I decided to apply for an MFA and was accepted into the Photography program at Indiana University Bloomington where I graduated from last year. The latter was really life changing as far as how much I learned in those three years technically and conceptually. I experienced many firsts like shooting with a 4×5 and using a professional lighting studio. Through this program, I was able to create a space for research and experimentation that ultimately led me to my current series Next to Myself.

Exploring your project, ‘Next to Myself,’ it appears that you’re incorporating both the female experience and your own as a woman. What do you want people to take away from your work?

All the figures in these pieces are women and nearly all are self-portraits. I center these stories around my perspective which one of a bicultural female. I am a Colombian-American woman and have grown up forming both my Latinx and American identity. It is very important to me to show women as the protagonists with depth and complexity which moves beyond historical tropes of women in photographs as a focus of beauty, a woman as a muse and so on. The women in these pieces are parts of myself; they are women connecting, healing, suffering, touching, understanding, hiding and guiding. It is my hope that the viewers place themselves behind the masks of each face and reflect on how they too are a layered being.

You also incorporate paint on your photographs. Can you walk us through this process?

At the conception of the project, I was thinking about memories and specific scenes from my youth. At the time, I didn’t necessarily want to re-create or re-invent certain places through photography. Instead, I wondered what would happen if I just painted in certain details of how this memory or place made me feel. I started to think about what colors a particular place had based on how the memory shaped my experiences in that space. I also thought about outfits I used to wear like a kind of costume worn by the character of that time. For instance, in the piece “Las Malas” I placed silhouettes with white line details of buildings that were important to me on a mountain towards the top of the piece: the Church, my childhood home, my best friend’s home etc. I also remember looking through old photographs and seeing myself wear a polka dotted orange shirt, the same outfit the figure brushing her hair is wearing. Through mixing painting and drawing with the self-portraits, I felt like I could create a surreal space for these parts of myself to interact in. This made sense to me because thinking about “parts of myself” is such an abstract concept anyway that to me could only be visualized through creating a sometimes dreamlike, sometimes abstract environment with color.

‘Las Malas’ Courtesy of Liliana Guzmán

There are many traditional photographers that would cringe at the fact you paint on your work, how is your process received?

That is a great question because when I first started mixing media during my graduate program I was met with some critique. It was difficult to find the process that worked for both the images and conceptual intent behind the series, and it took a lot of experimenting and feedback (both positive and negative) to get the work where it is now.

I am really surprised, however, at how excited and accepting the photo community is with experimentation. One of my most recent events was sharing Next to Myself at the Charcoal Book Club Chico Portfolio Review. The feedback I received was very positive and encouraging. I can say that from those conversations there was a focus in thinking about these pieces as art objects. Comments about emphasizing different textures, using more layers of paper and things like that all helped me envision how I will continue to push and transform my process.

It has overall been really exciting!

After taking a deeper dive into your work, it also seems like you intertwined your self portraits with feminism? Is this true and can you explain why?

Absolutely! The history of photography has been centered around the male gaze; this is true in the visual arts in general. As a bicultural woman, I subvert this gaze being both behind and in front of the camera. I use my own body in these self-portraits to amplify a Latinx female perspective which is one that historically has been silenced or overlooked. I feel even today that photography continues to be a boy’s club which is one reason I am focused on highlighting the experiences I had had for instance as a teenage girl in Catholic School and as a young Latinx woman raised in a bicultural household. I look forward to the future of the visual arts as one that encompasses more and more stories by women and women identifying artists from all backgrounds and ethnicities in hopes of amplifying and strengthening these voices and perspectives that have been lost throughout history.

‘Solita’ Courtesy of Liliana Guzmán

Next to Myself was recently submitted to Photolucida’s Critical Mass, what was that experience like? What did you learn from that experience?

Critical Mass is a unique opportunity to have your artwork seen by a diverse range of members in the fine arts and photography community. You make artwork in order to share and hopefully resonate with others and submitting your artwork to Critical Mass is a great way to have a new group of artists, curators, publishers and members of the photo community who you may otherwise not have known or been able to meet look and sit with your art. This experience also shows you what other photographers are working on and what kinds of projects, ideas and statements are being explored in contemporary photography.

Through Photolucida’s Critical Mass I was awarded the Blue Sky Solo Show Award which is a huge honor and of course met you and have had the pleasure of sharing my studio practice and project with you through this interview! Additionally, I received written feedback from jurors. It is always insightful for me to learn what new eyes have to say about the project. I would encourage anyone interested in Critical Mass to apply and know that there are many opportunities and connections that may arise!

‘St. Jude Tree’ Courtesy of Liliana Guzmán

What are your future plans? Should we be looking out for a new body of work?

Yes! I am currently working on a second solo exhibition (thanks to the Photolucida’s Solo Show Award) which will be on view at the Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon in April 2023! Since I’m continuing to expand on Next to Myself, I am working on new pieces that I am excited to share. I am also working on an exhibition catalog which will feature all of the artwork in the upcoming exhibition!

Thank you so much Julian and it has been wonderful to share with The Mirrored Society.