by Patricia Frischer
August 22, 2020
Presented by Medium Photo hosted by scott b. davis
This interview was arranged with Alana Airitam asking questions of Wayne Martin Belger and vice versa.
Alanna Airitam left corporate work at a time when there was so much news about police brutality. Trying to process the frustration of not being able to do anything about these issues, she challenged herself to use her camera everyday for 3 months. Friends came over to be photographed as a way to keep her on her mission. She added costumes and then tried to step out of the way of the development of the process. This developed into a series with a nod to the Golden Age but very much connected to the present. When she was young, she never saw anyone at the museum or on the museum walls that was black. This made her feel that she did not belong, so she created this work that places people who like her and do belongs in museums. She was 47 at the time and felt that young kids should not feel the way she did when she was a child. The Harlem Renaissance came out of a troubled time as well, so the image titles reference that period.
Her process is quite minimal and stays that way as she wants art to be accessible and available to people. Using only two lights and a balance reflector which she bought as a used light kit, she simply says she paid attention to light and shadow and is self-taught by looking at master paintings.
She is trying to correct an eraser in history. Truth has been switched and changed on a regular basis. So now it is hard to know what is true and what is fact. For example, she object to slaves were referred to now as immigrants. She has re-imagined the lives of four girls killed in 1963 to show what their lives might have been. The intention and passion during the shoot is very authentic and important.
The Cross Roads series turns around the vision of the Golden Age when the black subjects are looking you directly in the eye. In Cross Roads, they are looking away from the camera. She is trying to get her audience to see something new. Allowing these black subjects to find their own way, not be pushed in a direction set by others. These are large 24 by 46 inches encased in resin so they become objects.
The cotton from the Betsy Ross flag came from the work of slaves. So, she recreated the famous portrait with a herself as the seamstress and called it How to make a country. This is generated directly from the emotions she feels about how American is formed by the blood, sweet and tears of the African Americans. The remote control to shoot this shoot was pushed with her toe!
White Privilege was made during the pandemic and during the Black Lives Matter support marches. Most privileged people are not aware of their privilege and that lands heavily on those who are not privileged. This triptych is all about symbolic messages. The Pig has a silver spoon. It is in front of mirror so has no self-awareness. It sits on a flag so above the law. A black ribbon stands for black deaths and as the still life set up decayed and eroded in the heat of Arizona, it was photographed in three stages.
Because of the pandemic, work from the Golden Age has been borrowed from collectors for the SD Art Prize exhibition at Bread and Salt presented by the San Diego Visual Arts Network. Also one piece by Alanna from the Exquisite Corpse which was curated by Chi Essary will be included.
Her next project will be on a family piece of land owned by her aunt so she can gather history of her heritage.
Alanna has collaborated with Wayne on a new work, American Decay which combines and alters images from both. They both now live in Tuscon.
Wayne Martin Belger – As a machinist, tools were alwaysvery important to him. His first camera was a commission of a pin hole camera. He loves chemistry and the science behind analog process of photography. He studied comparative religion and that aesthetics plays into the work. Each camera is made for the portrait subject. This makes a bridge between the artist and the photograph.
Two of his cameras are made from human skulls. A Tibetan skulls was but only because it was a match for the theme of the work. The pupils which are gold have a tiny pin hole, this is surrounded by silver and then bronze. These skulls can literally see again. Because of the two eyes, a 3-d image is created. All the photographs are put into detailed installations. Each one has a plum bob which is machined with his blood in a Pyrex glass container held within. He dives into the subject completely and fully and gathers artifacts about that subject.
One of his other subjects was for a friend of his who had aids. The camera has a circulatory system with a vial of blood which is matched exactly to a certain red filter. He ended up photographing about 80 patience with aids of all ages. The photos come out tinged red. He makes a personal arrangement with all of the collectors to be able to borrow the camera back if he ever wants to continue a series. A larger theme is “us and them” where a certain group of people is labeled lesser than. This fits into his new series on a transgender American Indian called Walks in Two Worlds.
Many of you might remember his show at the San Diego Art Institute as well as seeing work by Alanna at SDAI.