There’s something delightfully creepy about the interiors and portraits by photographer Jennifer Garza-Cuen. The characters in her photos, while bordering on the far end of the David Lynch-ian scale of producing feelings of weird uncomfortability, are not who the portraits are actually of. The portraits are all a collective portrait of a place—a place immortalized in lyrics and film (both the moving and the still variety), that place being Reno, Nevada.
While I’ve never been to the desert west, or the strange man-made city of Reno, my projected mythology of what I imagine that place to be and mean is entirely satisfied in this theatrically produced series of images. Is Reno a place of heartaches and hard-sells? Is it a place where improbable things happen? Where weird is normal? Where time and space mean something different, and where people behave differently because of it? Looking at the series of images that Jennifer Garza-Cuen has submitted for consideration in this edition of HHS!, I am left with the bewildering thought: What, exactly, happens in rooms like these?
I’m uncertain whether the accompanying artist statement elucidates the answer to this question, or maybe, elaborates more on the sense of trippy displacement that these images evoke. Garza-Cuen’s stream-of-conscious explication certainly adds to the je ne sais quois-ness of the project:
By staging my narrative in a real place I can reveal the unreal qualities of the everyday. History is stretched out in front of us and Reno is the stage for an anti-epic, an opera of futility, a specific in the generality of life. I use heavy light, large landscapes interspersed with characters and props taken from mythology and life, layers that physically slow down the reading of the photograph. I tread the line between the staged and the real. My characters appear and disappear, swallowed by the landscapes. The interiors that surround them take on their lost personality. Reno becomes the central character. Repetition, rhythm, place, symbols, all leads us through a story that takes us nowhere. It is the rehearsal of a performance that never takes place, a rehearsal of a life that culminates not in the performance but in the insignificant day-to-day wanderings and confusion more emblematic of actual lived life. Reno is my metaphor for life. In Reno, life is the gamble we all lose, but play anyway. Reno is every time, every place, everyman.
The daughter of, “an ex-bullfighter and a defrocked minister,” and a current MFA candidate at the Rhode Island School of Design, Jennifer Garza-Cuen’s work has been shown both in the states and abroad, and her participation in the NadaDada show in Reno, Nevada might be the most mindfully apt venue for this body of work.