With over 200,000 lives lost, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on all of us. Like many, I have found it difficult to create work in the manner I was accustomed to since much of my own work takes places in archives, libraries, and museums — most of which have been closed or have restricted access.
As the weeks and months continue to roll by, I am reminded of those lost or impacted by another crisis, the AIDS pandemic, and like many, I have seen very few people since Los Angeles went into lockdown in March. As a result of these conditions, I began thinking about mortality, community, and isolation. I set up my studio to be as safe as possible and began taking portraits of individuals. The studio has a wall of windows, a fan, and enough room to place a backdrop and a camera fifteen feet apart. I wear a mask.
The portraits are of actors, artists, arts professionals, an attorney, dancers, influencers, models, trainers, writers, and friends. I shoot them mask-on and mask-off. The setting offers a chance for human connection, a chance to catch up or meet someone new, and has been both an incredible challenge and a lot of fun.
There is a degree of trust required in even the safest of conditions and I have greatly valued the opportunity to photograph these creative and giving spirits in a time when so many of us are facing unimagined new challenges every day. During this period, we have had an earthquake, unbearably smokey skies, blistering heat waves, and no small amount of instability. For me, the portraits are about survival, celebration, but most of all, the beauty of the everyday.
Los Angeles, October 2020
Ken Gonzales-Day is a Los Angeles based artist whose interdisciplinary practice considers the historical construction of race and the limits of representational systems ranging from lynching photographs to museum displays. His widely exhibited Erased Lynching series (ongoing), along with the publication of Lynching in the West: 1850-1935 (Duke, 2006) transformed the understanding of racialized violence in the United States and specifically raised awareness of the lynching of Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and African-Americans in California and helped to re-contextualize anti-immigration histories with the larger discussion of racial formation. Growing out of research into the history of racial depiction found in historic expositions and educational museum displays, Gonzales-Day's Profiled Series explores the depiction of race and the construction of whiteness in the representation of the human form as points of departure from which to consider the evolution and transformation of Enlightenment ideas about beauty, class, freedom, and progress.
Ken Gonzales-Day received a BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, an MFA from the University of California Irvine, and an MA from Hunter College in New York. His work has been widely exhibited including: LACMA, Los Angeles; Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, Los Angeles; Tamayo Museum, Mexico City; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; The New Museum, New York; and Generali Foundation, Vienna, among others. Gonzales-Day is a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow in Photography and is currently the Fletcher Jones Chair in Art at Scripps College. He is represented by Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.