In its Roman and Greek roots, “persona” refers to one’s ability to “sound through” (personō) and one’s face or appearance (prósōpon), the mask that one wears to denote a social role. Personas are, according to the psychologist Robert A. Johnson, a form of “psychological clothing.”
In 2018, I met a group of aspiring fashion designers, aged 16 to 40, on the site of a fashion institute that was in the midst of being built in New Orleans’s upper Ninth Ward. Many designed their own clothing, at times with unconventional materials, to engage with notions of performance and identity. Spurred by conversations about the marginalization we commonly experience as people of color, we began to co-create photographs on the institute’s construction site over the course of three months. Playing with the concept of surface—as it relates to fashion as a form of bodily cladding, and the photograph as a thin substrate—enabled us to manipulate the portrait’s veracity and treat it as an unstable, parafictional terrain onto which possibilities could be projected, much like the construction site that surrounded us.
Like the urban fabric of New Orleans, representation and identity were approached in these images as contested sites of cultural hegemony requiring reclamation. To confront the legacy of marginalization requires that we actively build new stories and selves from, and in spite of, the histories of our ruins and masks. This series attempted to explore how image-making could act as a framework for collaborative self-inscription, using the limited resources we had at our disposal.
Images and collaborators, left to right:
Daquine, Asia, Terris, Taj, Anita, Terris, Jervé, Jojo, Daquine, Cherise, Reuben, J.D., Face.