Every year the New York State Fair draws thoUnited Statesnds of people to Syracuse. For two weeks, the normally barren, industrial site, comes alive with food concessions, agricultural exhibits, demonstrations, live music and a midway rampant with freak shows, fast rides and gambling games. The paying public offer as much variety and spectacle as the pink chicken caged in a TV set or shampooed sheep competing for different colored ribbons. It is a hot or cold perience that requires a strong stomach, especially for fried food.
The intensity of human interaction at the State Fair has attracted photographers in the Light Work Artist-in-Residence program for the last 12 years, many of whom make annual pilgrimages back. It is a significant local event, dating from 1841, where history and are progress played out, and Light Work is planning a major exhibit from a growing collection and solicitation of NYS Fair photographs. Artist and writer, Sophie Rivera, was invited to Syracuse as Artist-in-Residence at the end of this past summer. First, she printed a group of portraits she took in the Puerto Rican community in Buffalo, NY, for an exhibit at CEPA, 'Portrait of Buffalo II'. The remainder of her time she spent at the Fair, from the opening day ceremony in the rain until just the thought of apple pie made her anxious for the familiarity of home in New York City.
Though Rivera's subject range as a photographer is wide, and her work by nature, remains in process, her political focus is single minded. Rivera centers her subjects within the context of tradition. Solitary individuals are represented in conflict and conformity with their surroundings. The homeless woman in the subway is at once, 'home', and isolated from society. A middle-aged Puerto Rican woman sitting in her wood paneled living room, surrounded by religious and family memorabilia, is also at home, though her stiffness betrays a position of exile. Rivera's involvement with ethnic and identity struggles persisted at the Fair where she spent time at the Indian Village and made portraits of Native Americans from the Onondagan, Mohawk and Seneca tribes. The portrait of Dr. Lloyd Elm, an Onondagan, is off guard. With a 1986 Weekly Minder in one hand and feathered token in the other, he looks restless and ill-at- ease in his traditional costume and 'natural' surroundings. He represents his ancestors and not the individual whose experience is in the present. By taking the individual out of the context of unity within a traditional culture, Rivera exposes the problems of stereotyping that sustain the power of dominant culture.
Gina Murtagh (c) 1987