storytelling

A Conversation with Marjorie Salvaterra

This month features an extraordinary woman and dear friend -- photographer Marjorie Salvaterra -- whose evocative images explore the various roles women take on and the raw essence of their inner struggles and inherent beauty. Read our interview below to learn about Marjorie's first book HER: Meditations on Being Female and her insights on what makes creative work resonate with others.


Marjorie Salvaterra's images reveal “a fine line between sanity and insanity,” according to Virginia Heckart, Associate Curator of Photography at The Getty Center. Her work was included in the George Eastman House Museum auction at Sotheby's, New York and she was runner-up for the 2009 and 2010 Berenice Abbott Prize for Emerging Photographers. Marjorie's great achievement is as a wife and mother of two. She makes her home in Los Angeles.

In her stunning collection of photographs, HER: Meditations on Being Female, she explores and challenges the depiction of women's experiences as daughters, mothers, partners, and agents of their own destinies.

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Karin: What was your way in to photography?

Marjorie: Well, I took a few classes in high school and I loved it. But in my head, I already had a plan for my life, so I stuck with that. Then my husband Chris was shooting a movie in Morocco, and I was terrified to go but I ended up going. And I started shooting. Somebody had given us a camera for our wedding, and I just fell in love with it. Just walking around, creating these beautiful images. 

What was hard was getting home and going, “Oh god, it's so easy to see with new eyes but it's much harder to see with old eyes. What am I supposed to shoot here?” In Morocco it was so easy, everything was new. It was really about finding my voice. Like, what is my voice? What am I trying to say with my work? It was a process.

What did you discover?

If you're a storyteller or a photographer, have a story you want to tell. The more my stories got personal, the more interesting and unique my work got

HER: Meditations on Being Female  by Marjorie Salvaterra

HER: Meditations on Being Female by Marjorie Salvaterra

Can you give an example? 

So life was changing up a bit for us... I was a new mom in school and life and health and all this new stuff, and I was just sort of beside myself. What am I doing? I didn't feel like I was doing well by anybody. I was trying to balance being all things to all people. I felt like I was always trying to keep up with everybody around me. I felt like everybody else was doing it better. You know, the moms at school: they looked fancy, I looked crazy.

All of a sudden I just had this idea of the women in water. It was my very first shot, 'The Weight of Water' from my HER series. The idea that “one drop of water” was an analogy. The idea of one drop of water throwing off your whole day, basically letting outside forces take over. So I just had that idea for that image. And I thought, “Oh god, how am I going to do that? Get all these women in the water in gowns?” So I just started piecing it together. Buying gowns on eBay, going to used clothing stores. Luckily enough I got enough crazy women to show up and stand in the water in the middle of February.

The Weight of Water

The Weight of Water

And from there, started a whole series, and really, what I wanted to do with my work; be personal with it.

I think it's the same with writing. Take from your own life. Chris and I watch TV shows. We always go, “Oh my god, that had to come from somebody's life, it just had to.” Because it feels so real and so funny. And also being able to make analogies, too. You don't have to tell specifically what happened in your life, but to make it real enough, to make an analogy, to hopefully do it realistically.

I also think that the more we're open--the more we give of ourselves--the more people relate. When I was writing, people would say, you have something you can't teach. And I think it's just about being open and emotionally giving of your own craziness. Because I think that's what we respond to in each other; like, “Oh I can relate to this person.” So that's what I try to do with the work.

Is that something you had to cultivate or are you naturally open?

Yeah, probably way too open. Like in my book, I wrote about my gray pubic hairs.

What were some of the themes that you explored in the HER series?

Definitely age and gender; growing old and holding on too tightly to things; motherhood; being all things to all people, all the roles we take on as women. I don't know if you have it, but the guilt as a mother, trying to do it all right. Giving your kids everything they need and still being able to take care of yourself.

As we age, everything changes. It's holding on to our youth, holding on to this idea of beauty, holding on to this ideal of keeping up with other people. Trying to accept changes, trying to accept our roles. And that we can't do everything and we can't be everything.

I get to take out all my frustrations in my work.

I think it's sort of therapeutic where I just take images in my life, every situation, and turn it into art. Instead of letting it get to you, turn it into art and let it go. That makes me feel better.

 

To learn more about Marjorie, visit marjoriesalvaterra.com

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A Conversation with Glorious Owens

I had the honor of attending a POPS The Club meeting at Venice High School a couple of weeks ago. If you don't know about this organization, then let me introduce you. POPS -- aka The Pain of the Prison System -- was created to support young people who have a loved one who is incarcerated. Did you know that 2.7 million children have a parent in prison? To think that a child can visit but cannot touch his mother or father is heart-wrenching.

Co-founders Amy Friedman and her husband Dennis Danziger are deeply woven into the fabric of our storytelling community in LA. They started the first club at Venice High School in 2013 (in Dennis's classroom) and have begun to expand across Los Angeles and other states. POPS has even caught the attention of the White House!

POPS members are encouraged to write and share their stories, many of which have been compiled into published anthologies. Below you'll find an interview with POPS member Glorious Owens, a remarkable young writer who is shining her light.


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GLORIOUS OWENS is a soon-to-be-graduating senior at Venice High School where she has participated as a member of POPS The Club. She's from South Central LA and is one of eight kids. As a writer, she recently won first place in the Beverly Hills Literary Society contest, and one of her essays will also be performed at the “Street Angels” gala evening at the Kirk Douglas Theater. Glorious will be attending El Camino College this fall where she'll be studying to become a social worker, and South Central Scholars will be mentoring and guiding her through college and university.

To read her prize-winning essay, click here!

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POPS The Club is devoted to enhancing the lives of those students who have been impacted by the pain of the prison system (aka POPS) -- those with incarcerated loved ones and those who have been incarcerated themselves. Spear-headed by Executive Director Amy Friedman, POPS establishes and sustains high-school clubs that offer students community and emotional support as well as opportunities to publish the writings and artwork they create through the club.

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Karin: What is your relationship to POPS?

Glorious: My relationship to POPS is that my father, my grandmother, my cousins -- almost half of my family, maybe a little bit more -- have been incarcerated at one point or another, on my mom's and my dad's side. And some of them have been affiliated with drug addiction. My mom's side - her dad and her mom were drug addicts. On my dad's side - his dad and his mom were drug addicts. So all my life -- all 18 years -- I saw things. It was like a vision of a movie. You think none of this could happen in someone's life, but it does. It actually happens and what do you do with it?

Like what? What are some of the visuals in your movie?

Basically I have seen people selling drugs, face to face. Somebody in my family getting caught for it and sent to jail. Someone getting beat up, jumped. Seeing my grandma in jail, going to visit her. Going through the process of literally taking almost everything off and getting searched. It feels degrading and makes you never want to go there. And my dad - I had never seen my dad in prison - but every other year it seemed like he would go back for something. He would always clean himself up and then go back. And my parents would say, he was 'on vacation, vacation, vacation' because I was little. But I knew better. I was like, why would he go on vacation for one to two years and not come see his kid?

They didn't take you to see him?

No, because they thought I didn't know!

But you went to see your grandma.

I went to go see my grandma, because we were super close -- we were like two peas in a pod. We always hung out. She was basically my babysitter and I was always with her no matter what the time was. When she went, I was one of the first people to know, because me and my grandma were that close. And she knew I understood what was going on, she knew I wasn't a slow child. And she just told me what happened, “Okay, I'm going for this, and I'm gonna be gone for a while. Just make sure you send me mail and come see me,” and all of that stuff. So it was one of those traumatizing experiences, “Now my grandma is going, like what's going on?” And it was continuous blows.

Someone that I love is getting taken from me. Now I have to go back, and someone I love is being taken from me again. I have to keep going, I have to keep pushing.

Keep pushing what?

Keep pushing like... they want you to succeed. Everybody wants you to succeed. But they keep doing stuff bad, so why do I have to succeed when you can't even do it? It's like, “What's the point? You guys aren't even gonna be here to see it. So why should I have to do anything?” It was stupid, I don't know why I would think that it was a really good excuse to not do anything.

And then you continue the cycle.

It's like... okay, I have to keep fighting, I have to keep doing homework. I'm gonna be somebody when I grow up. I'm gonna make sure everybody's alright, they don't have to worry about money. It always seemed like we were worrying about money. Anything that had to do with it ended up around money. So it was like... okay, I'm gonna be somebody who can make money and make sure that everybody in my family is okay, everybody's set. I don't have to worry about anything. But it felt like I was always the one who cleaned up the mess. Even though they don't think that, they think they did it on their own. Of course they think that!

But you always have someone who helped you get somewhere, even though you worked toward it yourself. Somebody helped you along the way to get where you are. Somebody who told you to get your life together... somebody who helps you, literally sits you down right there as you do your work. Or a passerby who happens to give you a hello that gonna make you smile for the rest of your day. It was always one of those things -- always being positive, always knowing how to help somebody. You never know what somebody's going to be going through.

So that's basically how I was, always a smile. There's no reason not to have a smile! Even if you're sad.

What gave you the motivation to rise above?

I didn't want to be like them, at all. I know jail is not for me. I know that I don't want to be on the streets. I know I don't want any type of pain to be inflicted on my family -- emotional, mental -- I don't want any of that. What I have to go through, I don't want them to ever have to go through. I don't want to have to add on to anything. It's already enough.

When it comes to POPS, how has it helped you?

It gave me a voice to whatever I'm thinking. Like how I'm talking to you now... I couldn't do this last year, at all. I don't tell anybody my business. I used to never even speak about anything. And then I came to Mr. Danziger's class and he told me about POPS, and he had us write stories about our lives. And that's when I was like, “I actually get to tell my story? Are you sure?” And he was like, “Yeah, you get to tell your own story. Write down everything that happened in your head and everything that you know happened.” And not be judged for it. Not have somebody tell you, “Are you sure that actually happened to you? Are you positive? That's not how it went.”

Everybody has their own story to tell, and everybody has their own perspective on it. But it was my perspective. This is what I felt; this is what happened when I see it. And people get to read that and understand. And you have people in POPS who understand what you went through because they have gone through the same situation. And so that's why it was a very good experience for me.

Was there anything challenging about it?

Just writing the story. And actually telling people my story, that was the hard part. Because it was like, “I don't want people to really know about me. That's none of their business. This was my story, but do I really want to put it out there?” That was the main thing. I've never been big on talking about myself but now I get to talk about myself full force. So what do I do? I was like, “Okay, I'll give you a little bit.” And Mr. Danziger was like, “No, I want more. I want you to actually put your whole life on the paper.” And that's what I did. It was my life and other peoples' lives. My mom would tell me stories about how her and my dad met, or how they would play basketball together,

I was playing basketball from elementary school all the way up to my freshman year, and I still play with my dad. Sports was the main affiliation with our family. In order for you to go somewhere you have to do a sport. And so this was something that I didn't have to do a sport for! I didn't have to work out. I can actually do this and get noticed for it -- besides having to do volleyball or basketball or run track. So it was a big eye-opener for me. I didn't expect this. I didn't even really expect anyone to notice me. I've always been a team player, all these team sports, team, team, team. I was always doing something for somebody. I was always fighting for somebody - for something, for your school, for a friend. You want to win because it's what all of us want. And this was something that was just for me. Even though it's technically for somebody - it's for POPS. They helped me. So I'm giving something back.

But it's your story. 

So what did you realize after the fact, in writing down your story, that you didn't know before?

There's always gonna be one or two people who have gone through the same thing and don't know what to do. If they're in that situation in that moment and they see my story, they might go the opposite direction. Instead of doing what their friends or somebody else told them to do, they'll take the right road. I want people to understand that they're not alone in whatever they're going through. They're not alone. Even though they may think, “You'll never understand my story.” Everyone has a different story, but there's always going to be a similarity to your story.

What about the personal aspect?

It's still one of things, like, I don't like you knowing! Because now when people see me, you see my story, not me. It's like, “That's how you are, how can you change that fast? How can you be so positive? You're faking it.” That's how I feel like people see me. I can tell you my story, but I'm a completely different person from my story. I'll do my best to help anybody in need in every possible way that I can. It's like, “How can you go from this background to this?” I don't know how to tell people the transition; I just tell you my story.

Isn't part of your story how you changed -- how you grew through it -- how you've transformed and become the person that you are? Or is that still evolving in terms of what you've written?

I feel like it's still evolving because all that stuff is still me. I feel like they see that part, and that's the bad part. That's still me. But I'm still pushing forward to that other me, the one I want to be.

That's a beautiful story, I'd love to read that.

 

To learn more about POPS The Club, visit popstheclub.com

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