Tamara P. Cedre has long been concerned that within the photographic experience women have always been portrayed within a male gaze. She felt that doing so objectifies women, and she wondered if her portrayal of women would be any different from the countless images that have gone before, should she start photographing what she calls the "lived moments" of a woman's life.
Looking at her work I'd say the answer is a resounding yes!
Tamara Cedre's work is raw, honest and unflinching. There is no missing the struggle for wholeness -- maybe even wholesomeness -- in these women she is photographing. One feels inescapably caught up in the moments of the life of her subjects, and, even walking away, there is the sense that something of who these women are walks off alongside you.
I first became aware of Cedre's haunting photographs and video work when I visited, in the summer of 2013, her thesis show at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Here were women, in her large riveting photographs, who were caught up in the moment-to-moment living of their lives. These women were not romanticized in any way, but rather stood there, in all their disillusionment, sadness and complexity, staring right back out at me. I could not stop looking. Indeed, I wanted to know more about the woman who had created, as another viewer of the photographs described her work, this matriarchy.
While Cedre was born on mainland United States, both her parents hail from the island of Puerto Rico. Though she does not consciously evoke her Puerto Rican identity in her work, the island and that island-culture remain very important to her. Indeed Cedre's mother, who is presently having end-of-life care in a hospice, was the original source of her work. "In losing my mother," the artist said, "I feel like I am losing so much of who I am. My mother was the last one in our family to speak Spanish. She connected us, my sister and I, to that world, that Puerto Rican world." She paused, then continued. "My mother and my sister were the first subjects of my photographs. I photographed them as a means of getting to know myself better. From those close family members, I could move on to photographing other women."
In her latest body of work, entitled "She Leaves Behind," Cedre has photographed women she is familiar with, pulling out various strands and fragments of their lives. "These women are not models, but rather people I know," she explained. "I follow these individuals around, sometimes for days and weeks and even months at a time, photographing them. I have taken long walks with some of them in the woods, talking and photographing them. It is true that the work is constructed, because I am editing from the images that I take, but I want to think that there is a complexity to these images -- of one woman looking at another woman, and showing another woman -- that I often do not see in the photographic experience."
The photographic experience. It is a term Cedre uses often to describe her work, since she works not only in photography but also in video, installation and sound, as well. She seeks to slow moments down, to try to still or even freeze a moment, because she believes that it is in slowing things down that we can really see what is happening.
Maybe because she is facing the loss of her own mother, Cedre is preoccupied with not only where the women whom she photographs are going in their lives, but also what they leave behind. Consequently, her work has evolved into an examination of not only the women, but, as well, the objects that they cherish. "I have now gotten to the stage," the artist reflected, "in my ongoing work in 'She Leaves Behind,' where I am now photographing the physical things that these women treasure or just what they have around them. I photograph these objects as if I was photographing people. I think of all the ways that people imbue meanings into objects. I think of how, for example, my grandmother had this porcelain rose that was so important to her. How that porcelain rose became a replacement in some ways for individuals in her life. The things that she had loved and lost or was in the process of losing all became wrapped up in that porcelain rose."
In photographing the objects that women value, the artist seeks to concretize that which is fleeting and ephemeral; that which we think we are holding in our hands when we hold onto something tangible. Her works are evocative and highly resonant. Yet there is no overarching meta-narrative to the work, and this is precisely as she wants it.
"I feel in this work as if I am charting new territory. I am not sure what it all means yet, but I am very much caught up in the act of looking. So much of photography today is about speed and quantity. That is not my preoccupation. Rather, I want to see and look and identify with the woman that I am photographing. There is a place for photography outside of documentary, and in this body of work, that is the space that I am exploring. I want to slow down the moments of a life to really see what is happening."
In her latest work Tamara Cedre does just that. Giving us moments to stop and think and breathe and wonder. Giving us time to claim one woman's photographic gaze through another woman's life.
Until next time.