My work investigates how personal and group identity changes in reaction to the physical, psychological and cultural environment. I create portraits of close family members and individuals from the “ghost population” of homeless within my community in Los Angeles. One’s identity is in part a result of place of origin, past experiences, life choices, age, social stereotypes, and unpredicted external events. I am specifically interested in investigating shifts in identity due to changes in one’s environment such as moving to a different region or adaptation to new economic conditions.
My process begins within my close surroundings, at home. I analyze old photos of my parent’s early days in this country and learn about the cultural customs they practiced in El Salvador. I ask them about the days before the war in the 1980s and their experience emigrating to the United States. As they age, they hybridize their former and current cultures in language, clothing, and customs. They are one example of the process of acculturation for Latin American families immigrating to the United States. I attempt to display the struggles of their adaptation by painting their portraits, altering their attire and collaging symbolism conveying their story and my own experience within theirs.
Beyond my home, my process begins under freeway overpasses and the city’s crevices, often walking into full communities of tents and pieced-together homes. I notice how the abundant homeless population is on most Angelino’s commutes but still disregarded. Through a process of trial and error, I find individuals willing to share their stories and be photographed during our conversations. I investigate the events that lead to their current psychological and economic state. I explore their past and what they enjoyed doing including hobbies and creative practices before becoming homeless. With my images and their narrative, I organize compositions utilizing symbolic elements from different photos at some points clashing and fusing also with moments of crisp cut collaging. I depict their environments and valued possessions that show evidence of their history and interests. I use gestural marks and spatial fragmentation to convey the turmoil of the busy city streets as well as their living and psychological state. I attempt to convert a verbal conversation into imagery, creating visual interviews that reveal the true state of their lives.
Elmer Guevara, 2017