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This large colour photograph was produced in an edition of three plus two artist’s proofs; Tate’s copy is the first of the artist’s proofs. The print belongs to the series Rich and Famous which comprises images made by Rossell between 1994 and 2002 depicting members of the wealthy Mexican ruling class. Most of the photographs in the series portray the wives and daughters of the moneyed elite in their own homes, palatial houses and apartments that betray their occupants’ opulent lifestyles and kitsch taste. The artist encouraged her sitters to pose as they desired, creating fantasy images complete with extravagant costumes and props. The performative aspect of the photographs is heightened by their theatrical settings.
Rossell grew up in privileged circumstances in Mexico City and the subjects of Rich and Famous are her family members, friends and acquaintances. Many of the subjects are relatives of politicians who served under disgraced former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (born 1948; President 1988-94), whose tenure was beset by allegations of political and financial corruption. The series has been read as an indictment of a pampered oligarchy in a country where poverty is rife. Rossell’s ambivalent relationship to her subjects and the free reign she gave them to express themselves have resulted in images which function simultaneously as a celebration and condemnation of hedonistic consumerism and eccentric individuality.
This image depicts a young woman with long dyed blonde hair perched on the edge of an empty Jacuzzi on a rooftop overlooking the Mexico City skyline. The woman sits with her back to the camera and turns to look back over her right shoulder with an open-mouthed smile. She is wearing a white tank top and a diaphanous skirt through which her black thong is visible. On the exposed section of her lower back is an abstract black tattoo. Large wooden rosary beads are slung over her shoulder and across her back; the cross rests against the concrete surround of the hot tub next to her bottom. Draping the rosary like a fashion accessory over the woman’s revealing clothing is obviously intended as a provocation in a Catholic country.
The top half of the image is dominated by a partly overcast sky. A glass wall surrounding the hot tub casts the buildings beyond in a murky haze, heightening the pale colours in the foreground. The realities of life on the streets are literally and metaphorically filtered from the woman’s and the viewer’s gaze.
The woman in the photograph is apparently one of the highest paid prostitutes in Mexico City. Her representation in Rich and Famous caused controversy among some of the series’ other sitters when Rossell published the work in book form in 2002. An implicit connection is made between the rich women and the prostitute who services their husbands and fathers.
Rossell’s work can be seen in the ethnographic tradition of Latin American documentary photography, but whereas her predecessors including Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902-2002) focussed their cameras on the underclass she lays bare the excesses of the super-rich. In their detailed depiction of a particular social stratum and their vibrant saturated colour, Rossell’s prints recall the work of British photographer Martin Parr (born 1952; see Common Sense, 1995-9, Tate P78371).
Barry Schwabsky, Daniela Rossell: Ricas y Famosas, Madrid, 2002, unpaginated, reproduced in colour.
Klaus Biesenbach, Cuauhtémoc Medina, Patricia Martin and Guillermo Santamarina, Mexico City: An Exhibition about the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values, exhibition catalogue, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, 2002.
Julia Chaplin, ‘Las Mennas’, V Magazine, no.18, July/August 2002.