Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Major: Women's and gender studies (now called critical identity studies) and studio art
Roxanna Sanchez-Avila’15, a self-taught photographer since 2007, developed a photo collection called “The Backbone of Beloit College” for her photography class, Alternative Processes. The project, done in the style of Civil War-era photography, is displayed on Roxanna’s blog in smaller black and white photos. The pictures illustrate a number of Beloit College employees—all women—who work in food service or housekeeping.
On what drew her to this project: I found a photographer who photographed Native Americans in America, and his portraits were very powerful and the gaze of the subject was very strong. That’s what I tried to portray in my photos. I wanted to remove the idea that they’re just these employees of Beloit College…they are individuals that are working the jobs some people might not appreciate or might not want to do, but they’re still here doing it.
Why she focuses on women: I was inspired by my own background. My mom works in an ice cream truck and has been working there for 28 years. It’s that idea of being a hard worker. I would go and have dinner with the food service workers that I photographed, so I really got to know them. Just this idea of building relationships through photography really helped me.
What she likes about photography: I think the idea of having a voice behind the lens. I’m kind of an introvert, so photography pushes my boundaries a lot. In high school I was used to photographing plants and flowers: anything that was still and I didn’t have to have a conversation with. But then coming to college, we had a project for street photography. (The professor) was like, “just take the picture and walk away,” and I wasn’t used to that. I was used to asking for permission. It was very weird for me, but after that some projects forced me to have conversations and be more assertive.
On her approach to photography: I recently discovered that I am passionate about activism, and I want do activism through my photography. My mom has always been a hard worker, and I grew up in a house of four women. Being part of the working class has really opened my eyes in a way and helped me understand the education that I’m getting here. I want to be able to relate to the people I photograph and not just be like, “I’m here to take your picture.” It’s more like, “I understand what you’re going through, and I feel like your story is important to share.”
On her career aspirations: I’m actually looking to be maybe an independent photographer. I know one of the things that I was dreaming about in high school was to be a National Geographic photographer just because they travel and some of those pictures they capture I was like, “I want to be there, too!” So that dream still lingers in my head. I want to get my master’s degree and maybe also my Ph.D. to teach at a college or a high school. We didn’t have a photography class in my high school, so I felt kind of robbed.
How her Beloit experience influenced her photography: I remember taking an intro to sociology class. I felt like I was learning about my life in an academic perspective. The professor focused a lot on people of color and different social classes. Just learning academic language of the experiences I’ve already had or already seen back home and being able to go back in the community and share these things and also document it through photography has helped me.
What the liberal arts in practice means to her: It means just having the freedom, the choice, or the options to study different things. For example, my WGST courses are very (connected) with other courses. So you may be there for WGST, but at the same time you’re going to be learning about history. It’s kind of that idea of having knowledge grow knowledge.