Interview with Gabriel Garcia Roman

Today we want introduce you a mexican born photographer, Gabriel Garcia Roman. He speaks about his life, his coming out and his artworks. In “Queer icons” project he portraits friends, poets and activists from black community with the aim to represent queer and trans people of color that rarely are featured in art world.

HI Gabriel. could you tell us a bit about yourself, your personality and your background? Where do you come from?

I was born in Zacatecas, Mexico and immigrated to the US with my family at the age of two. We lived in the Bay area til I was 5 before settling in Chicago’s northwest side, where I spent my formative years.  I’ve been living and working in New York City for the past 16 yrs.  Growing up queer in a working class immigrant family I always stayed in the background, for fear of my family finding out my dirty little secret.  This experience allowed me to become an observer to the outside world.  I would observe and savor life’s vignettes, making mental notes of the sounds, smells and visual experiences that later in life informed my work.  I would say that it wasn’t until I moved to New York City where I truly started living life.  I came here like many others as a way to reinvent myself or in my case live the life I always envisioned myself living.

What inspires you and who were the first artists that inspired you?

I’m inspired and love getting lost in small details, trying to find figures and shapes in textures and patterns.  I love going to museums and looking at the cracking paint of old paintings, staring at the light filtering through lace curtains.  I’m also inspired by craftsmanship, labor-intensive handwork.   My dad was not an artist per se but if an artist is somebody who could create something out of nothing and find creative ways to make something work then it would be him.  He taught me to think outside the box and stare at something until it spoke to you.  As a kid my brother and I would have to help him at the garage while he tinkered with something that he found and wanted to “fix”.  It wasn’t until I was an adult when I realized how much of an influence he has been to my work.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer? What attracted you to it? is this your main activity?

I didn’t pick up a camera until I was 25, at the insistence of a good friend who thought I needed to funnel my creative energy somehow and he suggested I borrow his camera. I had just moved to New York City and so I would walk around my new city photographing street scenes, building facades and a lot of reflections.  I did a couple of event photography gigs and knew instantly that wasn’t for me.  Having just moved to a new city and being a new environment I was forced to deal with a lot of issues I’d been running from and somehow the idea to turn the camera around and start doing self-portraits helped.  I then started shooting mostly self-portraits as a way to discover and explore the many aspects of myself.
Nowadays most of my work is photo-based but not purely photography.  I weave, create mosaics, silkscreen or cut up photographs and so photography is only one aspect of my body of work.

How do you come up with ideas for your projects? 

Most of my project ideas have come from self-reflection, aspects of myself or people around me that I’d like to investigate or decipher.  My ‘Defining You’ project, which is a series of hand-woven photographs that include childhood pictures of the person whose photo it is.  This came out of my therapy sessions and how childhood experiences define who you become as an adult, how being bi-cultural has defined who I’ve am…my weaving of old world and new world ideals.

 What’s the story behind your project “Queer Icons” – and how did you choose it? 

Queer Icons is a portraits series I started a couple of years ago, which celebrates the QTPoC (Queer/Trans People of Color) community.  This project grew out of a need to have more visual representation of a community that is often neglected or underrepresented in media or the arts.  I’m very attracted to religious art and specifically the halo.  I think of the halo as a badge of nobility and selflessness.  I thought it would be a perfect marriage between my love for my community and attraction to religious art.  The technique itself is photogravure, which is a printmaking process which tends to be black n white and I add color by collaging (chin-colle) decorative paper on the image, this is what gives it that old world look.

How do you approach people to be featured in your photos  and what did you see in your subjects that qualified them as models?

Initially when I start a project I reach out to my friends first and see who would be interested in participating, then I tend to move outside of that very quickly and reach out to friends of friends.  Lately for my Queer Icons series I’ve been reaching out specifically to poets, community organizers and activists.  I wanted to include their words into my work.  I wanted to amplify their voice.

What impact do you want your artworks have on viewers? What is your aim?

Although a lot, if not most of my work comes from a personal space I want my viewers to relate and see themselves in my images and work.  My work is all about identity and we all have one.

You’re often take self-portrait. What is your relationship with your body? Have you ever self-censored any pics?

 Yes I often take self-portraits / selfies.  I grew up being ashamed of my big nose and long skinny legs and thin frame and taking self-portraits was a way for me to accept and be okay with what I was given.  Creating images that included my body validated my existence.  Now that I’m getting older I am letting go and accepting my wrinkles, thinning gray hair and don’t censor any part of my body.

What are you looking forward to this year?  What are your plans for the future?

 I have a solo show coming up in January 2016 and so I’m excited about putting that together, I’ve also recently started making furniture and will continue working on that as well to see where it takes me.  Of course my Queer Icons series is an on-going series so I hope to expand it and photograph people throughout the U.S. and possibly outside of it as well…there’s a whole world out there!

How do you resonate with the term queer?

I tend to use the word Queer as an umbrella for the LGBTI.  I came out in the ‘90s and that is the word that I heard often amongst the gay activist community, so it’s stuck and I prefer it.

Thanks Gabriel for your kind collaboration

Check out more artworks here