Flor Acosta: The Image As a Way of Understanding the World
Personality of the month
By Jade Arroyo
“Originally from Cuévano, Guanajuato, born under the gaze of the summer sun, daughter of Hippocrates and Clytemnestra. Her life has been embroiled in inhospitable situations that have led her to take the character of heroine“(Excerpted from the Birth of Super Flor)
Flor Acosta is a photographer, teacher, and scholar of the image. A person highly respected in national photographic circles, she has a great sense of humor along with a sharp perceptive gaze. Flor (Miss Flor for many of us) describes herself as a voyeur of the image. “For me the photo is inherent, literally.”
Flor is from a strong lineage of guanajuatenses that carries the burden of the place, conservatism, and tradition. Her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents are guanajuatenses. From an early age, Flor was very responsible, as was expected by her father, who was a well-known doctor in the city. He was a very affable man with an incredible sense of humor, a man from whom she often heard the phrase, “Flor, I do not understand you, but I love you.” Her mother was a beauty queen in the city, the perfect partner and a perfect complement to the city’s doctor.
Flor was different. The paradox accompanied her from childhood. Flor disagreed with the canons of the city, and that made her rebellious. Although she was very shy and took refuge in an inner world, when she had a notion, she would wear huaraches and denim overalls and would walk through the hills, where she began to see and to feel the desire to grasp what she was seeing. It was something she could not draw or write. It was something to be expressed through the medium of photography.
In high school, Flor received her first camera, a Kodak Retinette. When her sisters fell asleep, Flor used the room they shared as a darkroom, and she washed the photos in the bathroom and developed them.
Flor decided to go to Guadalajara, where she developed professionally, living there for nearly 21 years. “I had the opportunity to get involved in exhibitions and the art circuit. I had my first exhibition in ’81 in an interdisciplinary group, where some wrote, others played music, painted, and were experiencing [their art]. It was very rewarding to participate in that community.”
In ’89 she began teaching. She wondered why artists were restricted in their creative expression even though she saw that they had amazing things to say. She wanted to encourage the new generation. She began organizing expos and photographic collectives. In teaching, she discovered herself. This was a way to encourage others and to validate her certainty that photography is art.
During the ’90s, Flor worked in the field of Mexican fashion. She was a close friend of designers and photographers for fashion editorials for Vogue Mexico and Harper’s Bazaar. Her photos are in the Book of Fashion Mexico, which includes her portrait of the designer Macario Jiménez.
On the panorama of photography in Mexico, Flor thinks there is a lack of culture and a need for researchers and institutions to join together in the understanding that photography requires discipline. Photographic output has infinite and identifiable possibilities, some as documentation tools supporting research, or advertising, etc. Photographers are faced with the challenge that marketing does not validate photography as an art. Marketers argue that you don’t need to study to get professional results. In Mexico we have seminars, courses, and workshops, but photography as a career? Hardly. Flor says, “That’s one of my struggles and goals in life: to validate photography as a discipline. Why? Because it is. Period.” She is convinced that it is a discipline, whether it is to represent or to employ in advertising. Having a camera does not make one a photographer. To be a portraitist or to devote skills to advertising, a person has to train and employ the knowledge and references to make a good product. It’s like any other trade or profession.
Flor is constantly updating and training. She’s focused on her teaching at the Tec de Monterrey in Querétero and on developing her own school, Atelier Flor Acosta, a consolidated space to build and help those who can contribute to photography. Photography is uncommon learning because it mixes narrative and representational techniques. Therefore, Flor believes that the people who are in this domain are not common people. “Remember: see, look, build, and understand,” she says.
On social networks and the immediacy of the image through using mobile devices, Flor does not see any threat. To her, it is the definition of Foancuberta, in the book Pandora’s Box: “They are kleenex images.”
“Photography has always helped me to look at my identity,” Flor states. She has done many projects and exhibitions, but we particularly like two. “I did a project called ‘Memory Images,’ shown in Guanajuato, which consisted of portraits of Guanajuato characters.” In SMA she completed her project “Super Flor,” a series of self-portraits shot in Guadalajara, Madrid, and San Miguel, the three core places in her life. “Super Flor is my facets. I saw universal mythical characters from whom I take qualities. I recognize in these photos my histrionic side. So this is a very fun series.” They are 24 small-format Polaroids photos depicting a time of day. To do this in polaroid is to fade the image since the polaroid has a short lifespan. The image, like our own life, fizzles, is diluted. Why cling to perennial images? From Mexico we find Meztli, the goddess of the moon; Viking Thor, a mythical character; the Duchess of Vilches; the goddess of the sea, Thetis. It concludes with a picture of a mask, where she becomes the character Super Flor.
Currently, besides teaching, Flor works in a new area of the school, which plans to open this year. She will take a space and transform it.
On the image, Flor thinks there is unprovoked visual communication. No image is fortuitous, what is there is latent, and you’re communicating. So why not first work on what you want to communicate? The photo is not made by the camera, but by the gaze that’s looking at the subject.