Art: Daniela Rossell – The Rich and Famous

Here’s an old case, from some years back. It was originally published in the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet, in August 2004.

‘Nicolaj Udstillingsbygning’ shows in their summer exhibition “Rich and Famous” by the Mexican photographer Daniela Rossell. In color photographs that catch you off guard Daniela Rossell’s turns her ethnographic look at the Mexican upper-class’ tastes and lifestyles. The social photography turns its head and directs its focus towards the wealthy upper-class’ conspicuous luxury and economic power.

Daniela Rossell - Ricas y famosas

Daniela Rossell – Ricas y famosas

Daniela Rossell (born 1973) exhibits her works in this former church in the heart of Copenhagen. The exhibition is very interesting, and gives an insight into a life where it can be difficult to gain entry if you do not belong to the Mexican ruling class, or you’re located amongst its servants. Rossells portraits are primarily women held in overwhelming scenarios, often very young women on the verge of adulthood that is very concerned about their own identity and self-staging. Daniela Rossell comes from the same class of her own photographs (she is the daughter of a member of the PRI, the party that ruled Mexico for 71 years), and some of the subject in her portraits are friends and family. This gives a confidence and intimacy in the images, which are revealed in a personal, brave and revealing expression.
The often grotesque stagings provide the framework around these cultural portraits of the prosperity and the psycho-social identity of the famous, which stands in great contrast to the majority of the Mexican population.

One might say that Rossells photographs spur a cultural and sociopolitical theme.
The political expression also becomes more relevant once you realize that many of those photographed are relatives of Carlos Salinas, Mexico’s small reputable ex-president who was accused of plundering the country’s treasury for own gain.

Daniela Rossell - Paulina with lion

Daniela Rossell – Paulina with lion

In one of the photos Salinas blonde ste-niece, Paulina D’az Ordaz, is posing in a somewhat tight tennis outfit, while she triumphantly puts one foot resting on a stuffed lion.

According to Rossell the women in the pictures are depicted, “as they are, or want to look like” and they’ve all approved the images. One of the depicted, nude model and porn actress Lyn May, has stated that:

“These are photographs of beautiful women in beautiful surroundings. In one of the images one of the girls strike a pose in a tight-fitting suit of tiger skins. I also wore one of those once during filming, and I think most Mexicanas wants one… ”
– Porn actress Lyn may

Beautiful women? Yes, without doubt. Beautiful surroundings? Overloaded and absolutely tasteless…

There is something sorely about these poor rich girls and their decadent environments, lots of stuffed animals, wealthy interiors ranging from beachfront villas to penthouse apartments, ballroom-sized rooms decorated like sultan palaces, Greek temples or European art museums with landscape paintings. Gucci outfits, porcelain dolls, antiques, bleached hair, set postures: the only thing that can remind about Mexicans are the servants, in the few pictures where they are captured by the lens. In one of the pictures, where a maid is, it almost seems that she longs to start again with her “real work”, where she is placed in a corner and casts her gaze to the side.

Daniela Rossell

Daniela Rossell

Thoughts lead over to the new-rich’ cultural poverty, or to Saddam Husseins invaded palaces as you might have seen them pictured in the world’s media. Tacky and kitschy. Grandiose and poor.

Religion is more or less present in all images. Whether in the form of a simple cross on the wall, or as a wall covered with crosses (a Catholic arsenal of crucifixes), a table set as the last supper, or imported iconography. The fact that the showroom is a former church provides an excellent backdrop for the exhibition.

In one of the pictures we see Jesus on a large wooden cross hanging above the fireplace. A tall and dark-haired woman sitting in front of the fireplace drags her fingers through her hair. The room’s interior is shaped like a church, where the fireplace with the wooden Jesus is at the center. In front of the smiling woman there’s two dogs mating: Jesus’ suffering, the smiling woman, the copulating dogs, it is beautiful and painful, natural – yet so constructed.
These beautiful, young, rich girls, where they are trapped in their abundance and their decadent decay, they give the upper-class’ disrespectful handling of nature a face. A face with a seemingly clear conscience.
It is a kind of reversed social documentary. Photo tradition has traditionally been humanistic and social conscience, and turned the photo lenses towards poverty, war, misery, helplessness and death. In this exhibition the camera is turned towards the sunny side of life, something that may seem provocative, yet titillating. Rossell has chosen to document the habitat, customs and traditions of Mexico’s smallest minority: the ultra-rich.

Rossell offers a stunning view of Mexico’s wealthy elite in their natural, and not quite as natural habitat. ” – W Magazine

Personally I think it’s very interesting to get an insight into a world where I do not have access, the social pornography curiosity of the human is thus partially satisfied. The photographs are hung with paper corners, so it also gives the illusion that one is actually looking in the family album of the photographer.

This exhibition made headlines and anxious debates when it was shown in Mexico and Daniela Rossell, with her skewed camera angles, her humor, irony, intense colors, and staged harem-like setting, has produced a result that is worth the trip to Copenhagen alone.

“Daniela Rossell’s show is one of the strongest New York debut I’ve seen in years” – Carel Kino, art writer for The Atlantic Monthly, Art in America and Art & Auction.

“The pictures are meticulous in their documentation of the good life and the amazing props people choose to help them live it.” – The Los Angeles Times

Daniela Rossell

Daniela Rossell

All the pictures in this article are rudely cut from different websites, and the copyright belongs (obviously) to Daniela Rossell.

Read this article in Norwegian – les denne artikkelen på norsk

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23 thoughts on “Art: Daniela Rossell – The Rich and Famous

  1. It looks like social/psychological warfare. It’s as though upfront, she’s complementing the snob-appeal of the elite from which she came while clandestinely criticizing them with a well-placed artistic kick in their crotches while they’re unable to be certain if she’s promoting them or holding their feet to the fire.

    If I’m right, then I say cheers to her. She’s got guts!

    • This is one of my top read posts, but no one has commented on it untill now. Thanks for breaking the spell with your well-placed comment 🙂
      If you’re right then she has definitely got guts.

      It’s also a part of the story that when the exhibition opened and people started to criticize the upper-class, some of the photographed women wanted to withdraw their portraits from the exhibition.

      Guts or not: she’s a very talented photographer & the women are beautiful!
      It’s also interesting to see social documentary photos that depict other things than poverty (which is what 99,8% of the photographers in this genre is doing).

  2. Well, here’s one more comment. I agree that Rosell is gutsy. And is she mocking those that she came from? Or is she merely showing reality….To me, it is maddening to see the opulence, knowing that the servants stand in the corner and where they come from.

  3. I don’t know if she got guts… she’s taking pictures of reality as she knows it. It’s not that daring for a girl who grew up in richness. However, I love her artworks, because of colours and composition. Wish I’d been in Copenhagen to see it. Was it in Helligåndskirken?

    • It was in “Nicolaj Udstillingsbygning” which was some kind of church, so probably Helligåndskirken (unless there are several churches used for exhibitions in Copenhagen).

      Yes I guess you’re right: she’s taking pictures of reality as she knows it, but the photos are staged and she has probably given some thought into the whole process beforehand.

  4. I don’t know how I missed this one before… I agree with Allen, that’s one gutsy bird. Someone had to show it, and if she comes from the same circle, more credibility to her.

  5. Amazing, but I think maybe her work has more to do with what we think it might mean. Like you wrote “Overloaded and absolutely tasteless…” so are these women in the photos. Vanity but no f-ng idea of what they are actually representing?… btw, I like your blog Cardinal!

  6. I listened to a Daniela Rossell interview and she is a smart cookie. She even acknowledges images when viewed as a group take a totally different context. Thanks for the article.

  7. The furor that an accompanying english-language article about class segregation in Mexico stirred up when it was first published in a glossy mag in North America was debate worthy then as well (unfortunately, can’t find a link although I remember it as pre-2004). Years down the line not much has changed, Mexico’s socio-political climate is in fact worse than ever and so a revisit of the artist’s book is timely – how sad that many more now aspire to the lifestyle that Rosell’s brilliant photos portray…

    • Would have been nice to see her photos again.
      It’s a shame that not only in Mexico, but also the rest of the world, people are continuously striving to be a part of the lifestyle she portrays.
      Personally I wouldn’t have fitted in to such an environment – it’s not suitable with my habitus, but being the simple man & great lover that I am, I could definitely have had a lot of fun with the women, before the shallowness of their lifestyle would have forced me to venture my way: into new adventures, in search of real women.

  8. Pingback: Female Photographers | Cardinal Guzman

  9. Love these images. I’m not sure if Daniela actually realized the comment she was making with these images, but wow. That lifestyle is disgusting. I hate to be judgemental but I can’t help it.

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