Sahara Borja was born in Toronto, Canada, and raised in California. She studied Film Theory at Vassar College and Photojournalism at the International Center of Photography. She is currently based in Brooklyn.
After years of working as a documentary and street photographer, you decided to turn the camera on yourself for the Ms. Quintero project. What brought about this shift and how has it effected the way you work?
‘In January of 2011 it became imperative that I turn the camera on myself. The details are boring, but it had something to do with not really being able to see myself, and a perverse mode of thinking where, while I am cognizant of the fact that cameras/photography are not completely accurate in the rendering of a person, place, or thing, that it would be if I needed it to be, and it *would* be if I was intent on showing Me to ME. Does that make any sense? Any internal investigations are now linked with external investigations.
‘Another thing that happened was that I freed myself from the idea of what I thought I “should” be shooting and in what manner or method; leftovers from my year in photo school. After letting that go, different narratives began to creep into my head, different interests, different reference points, different visuals, different desires, different realizations, etc. Basically, I felt like I was starting over with photography, or maybe I was just starting. The shift is obvious in that I used to be intent on “capturing” something external (whatever that scene might look like) and now I feel like a sculptor might with a big block of marble, something like excavating, and trying to work towards making something out of this big mass of rock that remains undefined. I see myself working alone and doing weird shit in my room not so differently as I see my much younger self, an only child who was content with a few pieces of blank paper, some colored pencils, some music, an old tutu, some of my Pop’s huge tennis shoes, etc.’
In your statement for Ms. Quintero you speak about a psychic reading, and there are mystical elements throughout the series. What role does mysticism and superstition play in your life and in your practice?
‘I am not a religious person. I think my interest in mysticism, folklore, magic, fortunes, horoscopes, the planets, the subconscious, all this bullshit, etc., stems from WANTING to believe in something coupled with the fear that everything has already happened and we just cling to what we want to because of this fear.
‘On a less serious note, I like the ephemera of the mystical, and always have. I love the idea of lighting a candle in the hopes that it will bring money! If only! In the end it’s almost the same as praying to a g-o-d, that this entity may bring _______. But I understand it, I do. There are more uncertainties than certainties (in my life, at least) so I am constantly running up against this idea of control, trying to figure out who or what is in the driver’s seat, and how I can sit there instead.
‘Someone told me once that fear and faith cannot coexist in the same vessel. And over the past year my faith in a few things has faltered. I was caught up in this thought during the first few psychic meetings, and I’m still fleshing out how to proceed without it really being a photo project. I get a kick out of the presumptuous nature of the interaction and the factual manner in which they deliver information about me. We all have our spiritual side, right? And whatever that looks like is up to the individual. But you don’t get to say who I am, and how anyone “reads” me is, of course, a reflection of them and their needs, wants, or insecurities, not mine.’
There are several portraits of different young women that you call “around the way girls”. How do you find these subjects and what draws you to them? How does collaborating with these women inform your work?
“Around the Way Girls” refers to a song from 1990. The “type” of girl in the song is from Queens or Brooklyn, she’s modest, she knows her way around the city, she’s street smart, she’s down to earth, she’s confident, and she’s beautiful in her own way – she’s an every woman, in a sense. This type of girl flies under the radar, but she’s a sleeper hit. She’s a good friend, she’s a keeper. I meet these young women on the J/M/Z line, close to where I live. On the train I see these girls and in my head I feel like we are distant cousins because of some shared physical traits, but of course we are not, we are perfect strangers.
‘I am drawn to them because of our obvious differences (specific background and upbringing) but also because I see something of myself in them, though I am aware that I am projecting something about my own notions of “Latina-ness” onto them. It also has to do with growing up in a place (the suburban, Central Valley of California) and attending schools that were mostly homogeneous, and if not mostly Caucasian, then very segregated. Through them I am examining my own sense of self.’
Can you talk about body image and photography as it pertains to Ms. Quintero?
‘I am not really interested in involving anyone in what I am totally aware is self-imposed criticism. The way I regard myself, I guess, is between I and I. To keep it succinct, I have long thought of myself as two things, “me” and “my body,” and this has manifested in a few different ways, none of them really productive. These photographs explore the challenges of visibility and limitations, paralysis and im/perfection, a few things that I have experience with in “real life”, but that I have no interest in allowing to dictate any part of my photography.’