Elizabeth De La Piedra’s world is boundless. She exists in multitudes of stories and experiences through her art, while simultaneously holding agency in her own narratives as a woman, mother, sister, and friend. Exploring themes of identity, subculture, transnational journeys, and representation, she imbues an artfulness in her documentation of life and offers a nuanced rendering of reality, reminding you through her photo essays that in all of life’s experiences there is beauty to be found.
Born in Peru, raised in Australia, and now residing in Chicago, Liz (as she casually reminds me she prefers to go by) is a studied documentary and studio photographer working in both fine art and commercial scopes. After graduating from RMIT in Melbourne, she journeyed stateside where she quickly took on apprenticeships with multiple famed fine art photographers, allowing her to hone in on her craft and perspective. “It was a massive learning curve, seeing how these photographers not only produced their art, but also worked in their business processes. It was an exciting time, especially being new to America and in New York City, and it’s where I really learned to navigate this industry,” she says.
Today, Liz speaks with the self-assurance of a seasoned artist. Throughout the last decade of her career, she has refined, and redefined, a specificity of storytelling that is at once subtle and powerful in it’s subjectivity. The lens through which she views representation, womanhood, and the zeitgeist has cast a sheen over what the eye captures, creating a diegetic world dripping with joy, celebration, and strength. Even in images of isolation, pain, or otherness, Liz manages to exude an optimism, taking stock in the idea that we are never really alone - not in our experiences, hardships, ideas, or triumphs.
The lens through which she views representation, womanhood, and the zeitgeist has cast a sheen over what the eye captures, creating a diegetic world dripping with joy, celebration, and strength.
Her projects range from documentary photo essays to meticulously crafted studio work; all different in scope, yet all so identifiably LIZ. In “Rashida,” an essay capturing a week in the life of one of the most essential internet personalities to date, Liz carefully offers a lens into the world of Rashida Renee; a trans woman of color whose place in the zeitgeist has been pivotal in highlighting the intersections of fashion and black culture. While Rashida’s body of work resides in archival fashion, the documentation and collaboration between Liz and Rashida seems almost prophetic - a cinematic rendering of joyful self-assuredness and identity that has helped set the stage for a sort of honest representation on our cultural platforms.
This is a theme in Liz’s work, though: a passing of the microphone to those with stories needing to be heard - or in the case of her craft, visualized. This idea comes to life again in “Prima Hermanas,” the documentation of her cousins, who, due to immigration at a young age, now live across the globe in Australia, Argentina, and Peru. The essay explores the socioeconomic impact on girls and women with this same story, and provides a spotlight to the intricacies of immigration on blood and culture. Undulating between isolation and connectivity, her subjects open us up to the complexities of splintered families and communities, but through Liz’s use of soft light and textured environments we are ushered into her realist landscape not to be judged by our own disposition, but to explore and grow.
Undulating between isolation and connectivity, her subjects open us up to the complexities of splintered families and communities, but through Liz’s use of soft light and textured environments we are ushered into her realist landscape not to be judged by our own disposition, but to explore and grow.
Liz again touches on womanhood and the facets that bind, and liberate, us in “ALPHABODIES.” A studio collaboration between herself and Lydia Neubauer, the project uses the nude female body to create universal graphics (in this case, the letters of the alphabet) through the female gaze, and allows the viewer to celebrate the female form in a space free of stereotypical gender taboos. Exploring censorship, expression, and the representation of female sexuality, “ALPHABODIES” is a continuation of Liz’s meticulous artistic dialogue on the contemporary issues we are confronted with, and works as but another mode for challenging inherited notions of dissimilarity and representation.
Exploring censorship, expression, and the representation of female sexuality, “ALPHABODIES” is a continuation of Liz’s meticulous artistic dialogue on the contemporary issues we are confronted with, and works as but another mode for challenging inherited notions of dissimilarity and representation.
“We have all of these narratives going that are individually very different, but collectively we are also all very connected,” Liz tells me. It’s in this moment that her body of work gains continuity and I’m given a fresh perspective beyond the distinct cinematography of her images; I can now see the breadth of experience and emotion and liveliness in each photo. Even more stimulating is that I can see myself in them, too. And that ability to create representation without divisiveness is the power of the lens of Elizabeth De La Piedra.
As the host of Notre’s first-ever in-store women’s event, Elizabeth De La Piedra worked with florist Taylor Amilas on a visual activation meant to entice the senses through sight, touch, sound, and smell, and set an unapologetically feminine mise-en-scene.
Below she speaks to us about her process, inspiration, and artistic lens.
Seen wearing new KNWLS AW21
Elizabeth De La Piedra
Your photo essays tell such a specific, yet nuanced, story about identity. Can you explain your process in identifying your subjects and how you bring their full essence to life through imagery?
When a project is being conceptualized, it takes residence in my brain and that care for the idea grows and grows, so I begin by putting the pieces of the puzzle together through research and consideration. When I’m with the people I photograph, it’s always a collaboration and I try to be respectful of their time and space. It actually becomes a relationship for that moment in time you’re together - respect and communication are necessary in the process. It’s also important to me to make it feel like the camera isn’t there; like we’re just friends having a conversation. It’s ideal to be a fly on the wall, but that isn’t always possible, so I just try to make people feel comfortable because it’s then that their natural essence comes through and resonates in an image.
I just try to make people feel comfortable because it’s then that their natural essence comes through and resonates in an image.
So you typically conceptualize the story that feels very inherent to you - narratives that you're familiar with, or feel compelled to tell - and then you identify a subject?
Sometimes the subject is the whole story. I come across people and feel like, ‘this person is amazing,’ so I begin my process to keep exploring their character. For instance, Rashida was already in a public space on the internet across her blogs, Tumblr, and archival contributions to fashion and the cultural zeitgeist, so when I was conceiving the idea, I realized it was because she had already contributed so much to culture and should be celebrated. So in this regard, the subject inspired the work.
How are you reclaiming female representation through your work?
I think because it’s created by me, and deals with people like me where we have connectivity in our stories and narratives, or the things we love or in our pain, that translates. And it’s not transactional. It’s a genuine way in which we’re all collaborating and it allows people to feel seen, which is ultimately what people want: to be seen in a way that makes sense to them. So when we’re in this space and working together as a team, it becomes a very powerful representation of who we are.
It’s a genuine way in which we’re all collaborating and it allows people to feel seen...
Clothes are a contentious point in the liberation of women and identity. How are you using fashion as a vehicle to drive progress on prescriptive gender norms?
It’s hard for me to say as a CIS, hetero female where I’m pushing anything by being me, but I do fucking love to see everyone wear whatever they want. I’ll always celebrate that and highlight that and engage in that joy because I never want to be someone that tries to limit that space for others. Also, I will say that when I became a mom, people reacted more to how I dress because, to them, it seemed to defy norms. I would receive comments like, ‘it’s so cool you still dress like yourself,’ as though motherhood would deter from that. That acknowledgement wasn’t something I was striving for, but I’ve never felt inclined to not dress like myself so I’m glad that people can view this and feel empowered to be themselves, whoever that may be.
As an artist, there's constant pressure to create something new. A new piece, a new idea, a new style. How do you conform to, or reject, the culture of constant output?
It’s never about the output, although it currently seems that way. It’s really always, always about how good the results are. We’re under this condition that life is a race, but it’s not a race - it’s a marathon. Life is very long, so you need to make art the way you need to make it. For me specifically, I seek inspiration continuously, whether my plate is currently full with personal projects or I’m doing commercial work, and I remain open to the next spark. It isn’t a linear timeline, either. Everything goes up and down and back around, and with maturity and life experiences you begin to realize this and better navigate the ebb and flow of creativity.
It’s really always, always about how good the results are. We’re under this condition that life is a race, but it’s not a race - it’s a marathon.
The relationship between artist and subject is very intimate. Can you put words to this energy flow?
It’s a collaboration.
How do you honor your subject in their environment while still working to tell your own story as an artist?
It’s a combination of in-camera and post-process for me. I try to be in the space and treat the work like a documentary, but my eyes are always framing things. It becomes a stylized version of reality in a sense. Then, in post-production, I’m able to apply a more stylized effect that tends to lean into fashion photography because I’m looking at lighting and composition in such a succinct way. On the other hand, my studio work allows me more control and it’s where I create my own world instead of documenting someone else’s.
Can we ever really separate the art from the artist?
No. An artist’s work is autobiographical by nature.