In a tale of two cities – New York and Mexico City – the photographer uses her lens to explore her relationships with others, as well as herself
The opening of photographer Zora Sicher’s first photobook, Progreso 110, is not one of the many eye-opening images that fill its pages, but a thank you note written for her friends, to who she attributes everything: “Without you, this would be nothing <3”.
The statement is unexaggerated and can be felt when you begin to understand the context of the series, which documents themes of “repetition, intimacy, possession, and space”. Alongside these themes, Sicher says the book also “focuses on my relationship with Samantha Menchaca Rodriguez, my closest friend. We have an interesting relationship because a lot of the time people think we have a romantic relationship”.
Progreso 110 came into being about two years ago, when Sicher moved from New York to Mexico City. Initially, the Brooklyn-based photographer wanted this project to be about Samantha. However, over time it evolved into a broader exploration of their time and space together. “Progreso 110 is the name of the apartment I lived in with Samantha, and two other friends, Natalia and Angél,” explains Sicher. “We lived there for a year between 2017 and 2018. Some, but not all, of the images featured in the book were taken in the apartment. Although not all the scenes are specific to Mexico City, or to Samantha, they are all about space essentially and the people/objects/things that played a part in our space. Samantha and I mirror each other in many ways. I wanted to figure out how to capture our closeness alongside our differences. That’s the beauty of real love and friendship, I suppose.”
While the book’s title pays homage to the apartment the friends shared, it’s clear that Sicher’s exploration goes beyond this. For her, space has the ability to transcend physicality. In her work, space can exist in a figurative, mental, and virtual capacity too. “When I was living in Progreso 110, we had this ‘home’ Instagram group called Progreso 110. We’d use it to send memes and nudes. But also to just be like, ‘Where are you?’ or ‘Where’s my package at?’ It was another point of connection, I guess.”
Unlike their apartment, this digital space continued to exist (via their iPhone screens), long after the women moved out. “We had lived together for a year, but it wasn’t until after we’d left that space, I realised we had also created a new, virtual one too. The group represented a new kind of space and I wanted to emulate this in my work. Progreso 110 is something I can keep returning to.”
Alongside themes of possession and ownership, the book also explores gestures of romance and what they mean when expressed publicly or privately. “Ultimately it’s some sort of declaration of love, a letter that was supposed to be private... or public. Public like graffiti. Actually, you know the concept of the tag is relevant here, and what it means to claim your space or make your mark on something, or someone. One of my favourite photos is a black and white one of Samantha in the shower. There’s a distinct line of water down her chin with this guy’s tag in thick permanent marker down her side; I let him tag me too, it wouldn't come off for days.”
The result is a series which not only showcases Sicher’s thoughtful compositions but prompts an exploration into the technical aspects of photography and the variety of media. Demonstrating that photography is never one dimensional, Sicher includes letters, scanned objects, text messages, and photos in the book too. “The first run of the book was tested on bond paper - which I really liked, but for the sake of the photos, we changed it to something a little more durable. It literally was DIY. There was an element of that idea that I liked. I wanted this to be very lo-fi, a space where the materials could co-exist. It was important that the written letters, the photos, and the iPhone screen grabs came together in an aesthetically accessible way.”
Last week, Sicher took her exploration a step further with a new exhibition, titled Hysteria. Although the show features some images from Progreso 110, Sicher is keen to highlight that the two are not mutually exclusive: “Like Progreso 110, Hysteria features important women that have been a part of my larger body of work. However, the show examines this in more detail. Whereas, the book is more specific to that place and those people.”
Referencing Alfonso Cuaron’s debut film, Solo Con Tu Pareja/ Love in the Time of Hysteria – which was filmed in the first house Sicher lived in Mexico City, before she moved into Progreso 110 – as an impetus, HYSTERIA sees Sicher “obsess over what it means to be hysterical”. Sicher explains: “I get really attached to names, repetition, and patterns in my work. After I watched that film, I just became obsessed with what it means to be ‘hysterical’. I rarely use the word, but, when I do, it’s in a positive way – implying hysterical laughter, or being in hysterics. But, it has dark connotations too. Historically, hysteria has been associated with women and their mental health. I wanted to define it, or at least attach some sort of feeling to it”.
“I think about what that sensation or that feeling could be for me,” says Sicher, “I think it’s a million different things, and that goes for Progreso 110 and HYSTERIA too. Both bring together pieces of things, people, and spaces. The text of the show – which is a copy and paste of a late night email I sent myself – finishes with a short rambling of found definitions versus my own. You could call it a poem? It's about inexplicable sensations. It's about women, and what it means to be a woman from my point of view. I like to have a dialogue with women, while they let me capture them, and maybe sometimes project myself onto them. So that's the larger picture for me, and Progreso 110 is more focused on a very specific, and significant relationship with a person, and a space, yet exploring the same inexplicable sensations and ideas.”