Through her parents archive of weddings in Tijuana, Yvonne Venegas sheds light on life in the 70s
Signalling what middle-class life was like in the border city, the Mexican photographer tells us about the recovery of her parents mammoth body of work.
- Ayla Angelos
- 16 June 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
For Yvonne Venegas, a photographer who grew up on the Tijuana-San Diego border, portraiture has always formed the base of her practice. Transitioning between sociologically charged projects and those that allow her to study the practice of photography, her intuitive and tentative work has been shown throughout Mexico, US, Canada, Peru, Brazil, Spain, France, Poland and Russia. Not to mention solo exhibitions at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, University Museum of Contemporary Art Mexico City and Baxter, New York.
Alongside her own photography projects – such as a series and book documenting the inhabitants of San Pedro Garza Garcia – recently, Yvonne has been working on something closer to the heart. An ongoing editing project, titled Archivo Venegas-Percevault, the project sees her publish the photographic works created in Tijuana by her parents, José Luis Venegas and Julia Edith Percevault, in the 70s and 80s.
Having grown up in her parents photo studio in Tijuana, a border city in Mexico, it was natural for Yvonne to start taking her own pictures. Commencing with prop-fuelled portraits of her identical twin sister and singer songwriter Julieta Venegas, it allowed her to become fully immersed in her parents’ craft. This later led to the resurrection of her parent’s archive, uncovering of a mammoth collection of thousands of colour medium format images presenting the iconography of middle-class life in this border city.
As for the backstory, her parents had moved to Los Angeles in the late-60s due to her father wanting to work as photographer’s assistant, a response to the fact that there were a lack of jobs going in this field in San Diego. Then, he became part of the Alfred & Fabris photography studio and started to learn the ropes of commercial photography. “They began to drive back to Tijuana to do some events of their own using an altered version of the Californian style, and soon moved back to open their studio in 1972,” Yvonne tells It’s Nice That. “Their style was unique to Tijuana, as nobody was making full photography albums of wedding events yet, and especially not in colour.” This meant the studio garnered much recognition in their field and soon became a great success. “To this day, my father’s favourite activity is to shoot weddings and social events.”
Yvonne now reminds herself of one of the most “vivid memories” that has stayed with her for quite some time – one that’s been very important to her practice too. “It was that of my father editing the pictures of a wedding,” says Yvonne. In the 70s, her parents would print their event works onto 5x5 colour prints then, as Yvonne recalls, her father would sit on the sofa in the living room and flip through the prints one-by-one, “every once in a while dropping one to the floor.” She adds: “Those that would get left out didn’t work for the bigger plan, which were the important moments that my dad learned to describe the wedding (under the tutelage of the Alfred & Fabris commercial photography studio in Los Angeles).”
When Yvonne had noticed these pictures, it was the “left behind” moments that became the starting point for her own practice. In 2000, Yvonne was working on her first long-term documentary project titled The Most Beautiful Brides of Baja California, photographing subjects at an all-girls Catholic school and revisiting them at a later date, in turn, merging questions on femininity and upper-middle class “existence” in Tijuana. Working with some of her father’s clients mixed with her own, she says: “During this work, I extended into my parents work in the 70s, curious to see if I could develop an artist project from it. For the first time I saw a strong connection between those social spaces of my own, realising that for all those years I had be working to find those moments that my father had left out of the albums.”
Within the project, you’ll find various depictions of wedding memorabilia in a colour-drenched snapshot style. One image in particular is that of Sra. Afife Baloyan from 1973. It was taken at a bachelorette party, where “Mrs Baloyan was a society lady” and her Armenian husband Shirak Baloyan was one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in Tijuana – both of whom were her parent’s clients. “I love the image because it expresses her elegance, which many people remember her as such,” says Yvonne. “I love thinking of the time when the significance of status belonged to the social space they inhabited, and not something as abstract as the many virtual gazes that exist for us now.” A signal to what life was like in Tijuana in the 70s, Yvonne concludes: “I think this image represents a time of innocence and of true elegance at the same time.”