Photographer Interview: Gabriel Garcia Roman

Copyright Gabriel Garcia Roman 
D&B: Where are you from and where do you live/work?
GGR: I was born in Zacatecas, Mexico and at the age of two my family migrated to the U.S. We lived in San Francisco for a couple of years before settling in Chicago's northwest side, where I spent my formative years. I've been living and working in New York City for the past 15 yrs.

Did you grow up under the thumb of religion?
My parents were always too busy working to take us to church on Sundays and we didn't grow up with religious images in our home but coming from a Mexican household, religion and more specifically Catholicism is more of a cultural thing. It is so engrained in our language and everyday life that it is hard to get away from. The only occasions we went to church were for a family member's baptism, quinceaƱera or wedding.

Walking into church always made an impression on me -- the lifelike statues, the stained glass windows, huge paintings of saints encased in highly ornate gold frames always mesmerized me. I was fascinated by the colors, power and emotions that came through these inanimate objects. I am often trying to replicate that in my work.

How did you encounter photography?
I didn't pick up a camera until much later in life. I had just moved to New York City and met my friend Bruce who identified my creative potential and encouraged me to explore it. He lent me his QuickTake 200 digital camera and suggested I document my every day surroundings as practice. Having just arrived to a new city and completely out of my comfort zone I was forced to deal with issues I had been struggling with my entire life. While simultaneously exploring my creativity and myself, I naturally turned the camera around and started taking self portraits. Self-portraiture became a way to explore and learn the different sides of Gabriel.

Flying over Teotihuacan (2012)
 Photogravure with chine-colle.
 Copyright Gabriel Garcia Roman
You often augment your photographs with other mediums/printmaking techniques like chine-colle. What's the connection with photography and printmaking?
As an artist, I'm constantly looking for ways to counteract the flatness that's inherent to photography: weaving, folding, cutting, and most recently collaging metallic or textured paper are all different attempts at realizing that goal. A couple of years ago I learned the photogravure process and fell in love with the many tones that can be achieved through that printmaking process but soon found it limiting since I can only produce black and white images. Chine-colle was the only way that I could introduce color and depth into those images.

Describe your color philosophy...
The layers of color, texture, and patterns become an integral part of my portraits, directing the eye around the photograph to the central figure. I am drawn to bright and saturated colors but am very conscious not to let them take over the image. I work at striking a balance between bright and dark tones.

Duality #selfportrait
Copyright Gabriel Garcia Roman
Many of your self portraits reference a duality - what are the two sides of Gabriel?
Most of my work is about identity and how that plays out in how we interact with the outside world. Specifically in my self-portraits I try to understand the many sides of myself; the introvert, the confident, the American, the Mexican, the friend, the brother, son, etc. More specifically with the "Duality" image I was playing with one of the themes I am constantly exploring which is my biculturalism, coming from an immigrant family and moving to a new country. I grew up being reminded I was Mexican and wore that label proudly and yet on my first trip back to Mexico I was constantly reminded of how American I was. My mom had a saying for that, "No eres ni de aqui ni de alla," which translates to, "You are neither from here nor from there." This has always been my life.

The text with your self portraits is very intimate, revealing. Do you intentionally work to combine text and photography or is it simply an effect of the tumblr blog experience? 
 This has been a more recent development, I don't consider myself a good writer and have often relied on my work to speak for itself but more recently I have come to realize that some of my work does need to be explained or at least the process by which I came to that image. Specifically I am talking about the image where I superimposed my image atop of my dad's and went into detail about our relationship. It was a way for me to grieve and process his loss.

Copyright Gabriel Garcia Roman
Are there any photographers whose work you can't live without?
I constantly go back to William Eggleston's work, his use of color and banal subject matter has always pulled me in. I am always in awe of Pieter Hugo's portraits, his ability to capture his subjects' strength and pride is inspiring. I am also a huge fan of Yusef Karsh, his mastery in portrait lighting makes me smile. He shows me how lighting plays an important role in how a subject matter is perceived.

What are 3 things that sustain your art practice?
I am constantly watching and absorbing my environment, and find myself lost in thought with new ideas swimming in my head. And once I flush them out, my hands naturally do all of the work. In essence, my mind, hands and eyes are what sustain my art practice.

See more of artist/photographer Gabriel Garcia Roman's work, make sure to check out his most recent Queer Icons series.

Dodge & Burn is a blog dedicated to documenting a more inclusive history of photography and supporting the work of photographers of color with photographer interviews.

This blog is published by visual artist and writer, Qiana Mestrich. For regular updates on diversity in photography history, follow Qiana on Twitter @mestrich, Like the Dodge & Burn Blog page on Facebook or subscribe to Dodge & Burn by email.

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