I delighted to have been invited to speak about my FAST FOOD and CENSORED LANDSCAPES photographic series at the 4th Annual Ecofeminism Conference on April 22 at Santa Monica College. More information here.
A piece from my series CENSORED LANDSCAPES will be included in the ReclaimingEarth - works by women eco artists exhibition from April 8 - June 24, 2017 in the Jewett Gallery in the lower level of the San Francisco Public Library at 100 Larkin St. (at Grove). Opening Event to meet the artists and curators is on Sunday April 9, 2017 at 1PM in the Koret Auditorium in the lower level.
I will be conversing about my FAST FOOD and CENSORED LANDSCAPES series with CFUV(101.9 FM) Winds of Change radio host, Janine Bandcroft, on International Women's Day, Wednesday March 8, 2017 from 11AM-noon. CFUV is listener supported radio on the unceded lands of the Coast Salish peoples in Victoria, BC.
A piece from my FAST FOOD series will be included in the upcoming WHAT KEEPS YOU UP AT NIGHT exhibition. It will be a traveling exhibition curated by Tomiko Jones and hosted by the The Arts at California Institute of Integral Studies. More details to follow.
A piece from my work-in-progress series CONVENIENCE will be exhibited in the City of Berkeley's Civic Art Exhibition this year. Details to follow.
A piece from my new series, EDEN has been included in the "Rite of Passage - Creating a profound conversation between environmental art and personal spirituality" exhibition at the Gallery of the ICCNC (upper level), 1433 Madison Street, Oakland CA 94612 from February 20 to March 20, 2016. The gallery is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays 12-5 PM.
A piece from my new series, EDEN will be included in the "Smaller Footprints" exhibition at the Museum of Art and History, 665 West Lancaster Boulevard, Lancaster, CA 93534 from January 28 - March 27, 2016. The opening reception is scheduled for Saturday, January 30, 6-8PM.
Two pieces from my series, FAST FOOD will be included in the "Nourish: Food as Sustenance and Pleasure" juried Joyce Elaine Grant Exhibition at the Texas Woman's University Fine Art Galleries, 1200 Frame Street, Denton, TX 76209 from February 11 - March 20, 2016. The opening reception is scheduled for February 16, 2016 from 5:30-8:00 PM.
In the Fall 2015 issue of Exposure magazine, Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of photography at the Cleveland Museum of Art reviewed an exhibition I was invited to participate in, Off the Web, On The Wall 2: An SPE Member Show. She writes the following about photographs from my series FAST FOOD:
"Isabella La Rocca's attitude in the FAST FOOD series is critical and ironic. The California artist makes the plastic sheen and the vivid colors of the facades of fast food restaurants appear both seductive and disturbingly cacophonous. The visual overload is perhaps meant to echo her personal distress with that industry's social, environmental, economic, and public health implications."
"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." ~ Carl G. Jung
That day, the temperature hit 116 degrees Farenheit. In the evening we arrived at a restaurant just minutes before closing. Nevertheless, the waiter welcomed us. He was tall, muscular, friendly, and flirty. He brought us an extra treat: tofu kebabs that had been marinated in a savory sauce. They were delicious.
Then he announced that he was not vegan, he would never be vegan, he loves bacon.
I asked if it didn’t bother him, about the pigs.
And he said, “No, of course not. Animals don’t have feelings.”
We exclaimed that animals do have feelings. I would have said that we are all animals, that humans are animals, but he didn’t give me a chance.
He insisted that animals don’t have feelings.
We asked, “What about dogs? Do you have a dog?”
He said that maybe dogs might have feelings. He said that the animals, they don’t know they’re going to die so it’s OK to kill them. Maybe they’re scared but it’s not because they’re scared of death, they’re just scared.
I pointed out that fear is a feeling.
He agreed that fear is a feeling. But he repeated that he would never stop eating animals. That eating animals is the reason for his handsome body.
We didn’t pursue the conversation much further. I didn’t want to waste more time in a tiresome discussion. I just wanted to enjoy dinner with my dear friend.
After dinner, we spent the night at a golf resort nearby almost for free with points I’d racked up on my credit card. It is luxurious in the way that’s popular among the not quite ultra-rich. The lawns are perfectly manicured. In this the fourth year of the California drought, the grass is watered daily. There are duck ponds, and four swimming pools. It was a freaky contrast to the acres of excrement-covered dirt on which cattle stand, or lie on, all day and night, day after day, the ammonia fumes searing their eyes, nostrils, mouths, and tongues, with no real shade, only water from a dirty concrete tub to drink, no respite until the dark night from that hell of over 100 degrees Farenheit.
The technical name for the places I photographed is CAFO - Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. 99% of meat, dairy, and eggs comes from CAFOs. CAFOs known as feedlots confine cattle by the thousands for the beef or dairy industries. The animals are young, most likely less than a year old. They are fed an unnatural grain diet to fatten them as quickly as possible, which causes gastric distress. They have been branded, dehorned, and/or castrated with no anesthetic.
Comparisons have been made to the Nazi Camps. Isaac Basevich Singer said, “For the animals, life is an eternal Treblinka.” Some people jokingly call these places “Cowschwitz.” Of course, these comparisons only go so far. Every oppression has a history and quality all its own. Alex Hershaft, Holocaust survivor and founder of Farm Animal Rights Movement, has been quoted as saying, “I am not equating the Holocaust with the millions of animals slaughtered every week for U.S. dinner tables, for we differ in many ways. Yet, we all share a love of life and our ability to experience many emotions, including affection, joy, sadness and fear.”
I know that in that resort hotel there were people who were suffering, who were at odds with their spouses, maybe on the verge of divorce or going through a divorce, maybe frustrated with their jobs or careers, perhaps they had children who have drug problems or parents who are sick or dying. The ways in which humans suffer are endless. And I knew that suffering cannot be quantified and that it can’t be compared. And yet, I know that no one in that hotel would ever trade places with any one of those animals we had seen and wept for that day. But that any of those animals would give anything to spend just a short time suffering in that luxury resort.
My current project, CENSORED LANDSCAPES (formerly TESTAMENT) includes photographs of non-human animals. I use the word “portraits” to describe these photographs but it seems a poor term.
In the 1994 book Animals, A. D. Coleman writes, “A likeness is any image that resembles a person. A portrait is a picture that suggests something about that particular individual’s personality. Animals have identities, habits, moods, emotions, and expressions just as humans do, and photographers often find ways of revealing those characteristics.”
I don’t disagree with the statement as far as it goes, but it leaves out so much. Portraiture depends on a tacit agreement based on a set of conventions that have evolved over thousands of years, the understanding of which is limited to the human species.
The ways non-human animals recognize themselves or others have nothing to do with silver gelatin, ink, or dye on a flat substrate – or with an array of tiny dots of colored lights emitted from a flat screen. Our meager representations mean nothing to animals, do not even begin to suggest the richness and breadth of their perceptions, the smell and the light and the presence in all dimensions that characterizes an individual.
Humans, on the other hand, seem to confuse a flat abstraction with the thing itself. People point to their phone screens and say things like, “that’s my mom” or “this is me and my boyfriend in Costa Rica” or “here’s my cat.” Studies that attempt to prove that animals recognize humans from flat images claim to test animal intelligence - somehow we have decided that our reductionism is a sign of intelligence.
Magritte pointed out the absurdity of this in his painting, La trahison des images.
C’eci n’est pas une pipe – French for “This is not a pipe” - the thing we identify as a pipe is not a pipe at all, it is oily pigment that has dried on a sheet made of canvas.
Coleman’s anthropocentric definition also leaves out another element of portraiture: complicity between the subject and the photographer. The sitter gives the photographer permission to interpret her identity for other humans. A portrait is meant to memorialize the sitter. If the photographer is an artist or is famous, the portrait becomes part of an oeuvre.
But when I am photographing them, my subjects are not interested in my memorializing or my interpretations, much less my oeuvre. They are much more concerned with my movements, my presence, my being.
Photographing animals is essential to my project but at first I was resistant. Animals in photographs are most often just compositional elements, ways of modulating the light or of enhancing the image of humans. Animals are seen as entertaining, humorous, or as aestheticized objects, consumer goods, inferior and alien beings, almost always colored by the entrenched speciesism of our society. Why would my images of animals be seen differently? But so much passes between my subjects and me: trust, understanding, connection, affection, love. I’ve come to delight in the process.