This large colour photograph was produced in an edition of three plus two artist’s proofs; Tate’s copy is third in the edition. 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.
In this image, a young woman in a long white brocade dress stands next to an indoor swimming pool in an elaborate neo-classical interior. She is posed on green carpeted steps leading from the pool to a mezzanine area where several round glass-topped tables with baroque motifs crowd in front of exercise machines. One of the walls of this upper area appears to be made of gold-tinged mottled glass with amber panels. Another wall is mirrored. In front of the mirror is an extravagant gilded frieze flanked by lions bearing shields and topped with frolicking putti. A golden statue of a classical soldier stands on the left side of the image. Fringed by decorative cornicing the ceiling is constructed from glass tiles, on each of which a floral motif is painted. Next to the pool is a large trompe-l’oeil mural depicting a tall ship at sea beyond arched colonnades.
The photograph is shot from a low angle and is dominated by a gilt banister that outlines the double steps up from either side of the pool. The young woman stands on the right immediately in front of one of three large white columns with gold pediments. Her straight white dress extends the line of the column. A white statue of a classical maiden in a pose that echoes the woman’s stance looms above her to the right on a gilt plinth.
The woman in the photograph is the daughter of a popular composer. Her slight figure blends seamlessly into the opulent interior of her father’s house. Carefully groomed, she appears as one of his many possessions. Unlike most of the other young women in Rossell’s series who blatantly flaunt their sexuality, she is modestly dressed and demurely posed. Her gaze meets the camera but her face is solemn.
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.