Glenda Lissette is a Guatemalan-American photographer and filmmaker whose self portraiture focuses on her experiences growing up online. Lissette began sharing images online at the age of 14, eventually gaining followers from around the world through various social media platforms. After being labeled an “influencer” by brands interested in capitalizing on her audience, she began using self-portrait photography to explore brand-influencer and influencer-follower relationships. Using Photoshop, she distorts her face, body, personality, and surroundings, blurring the lines between reality and fiction. By investigating the role of influencer, Lissette’s work forces viewers to acknowledge the often gendered labor that sustains the expanding business of social media. Through her work, she hopes to encourage viewers to examine their experiences online and humanize the individuals contributing to those experiences.
Lisette's latest series, Save Our Skin is a series of self-portrait photographs that focus on the anxieties surrounding anti-aging self-care routines. "Through creating portraits of an idealistic, insecurity-free version of myself in old age," said Lisette, "these images force me to reflect on my generation’s expectations for aging, beauty, and lifestyle."
VICE: Your most recent work, Save Our Skin, aims to comment on the anxieties around self-care and anti-aging routines. Have you ever experienced these anxieties yourself, and what do you think about the current state of self care as it’s become a huge cultural trend?
Glenda Lissette: I’ve definitely experienced these anxieties. I think my entire generation is afraid of the textures the sun will create on our skin. There’s been this recent movement of beauty routines that are centered on prevention, which just inherently makes me anxious. It feels like a constant reminder that I’m aging and if I don’t step in and intervene I’ll regret it later. I think experiencing that with seeing older femme influencers and models with beautiful skin and perfect lives made me reflect on the broader, lifestyle-centered anxieties that are just as much a part of my fear of aging as the aesthetic ones are.
A lot of your more recent work is based in self portraiture. Can you speak about the pros and cons of using yourself as a subject?
I think portraiture is always kind of exploitative, especially with the work I’m making, so I feel a lot more comfortable putting myself through that rather than other people. The work where I “correct” and confront my insecurities sometimes feels like a form of mutilation, and even though the final results are often humorous, the process can sometimes feel harmful.
I also think the photos wouldn’t mean the same thing if they were of someone else. I’m the person feeling these fears, and using self portraiture allows these images to be a true manifestation of those emotions. For me, the performance of doing this to myself becomes a part of the work. In the case of this series, I’m confronting my fears of aging by literally rendering myself as a reflection of those fears.
As someone previously labeled as an influencer, how do you challenge and play with that role in your projects including these images?
I think social media users are trained in influencer tropes and language, which is largely just behavior that allows for brand deals. I see those tropes come up in my subconscious all the time and when I’m making artwork, I kind of just lay it all out and let it be present. It ends up manifesting in the poses, the environments, the brandnames, etc.
What do you think about now past viral trend of FaceApp? Is it harmless to participate in these zeitgeist?
In addition to app zeitgeists, I feel like your work addresses the types of body types and standard women are supposed to achieve on Instagram, especially in series like ‘Self Gaze’ where the Kardashian aesthetic is in full force. How do you feel about this aesthetic? Are you being critical?
I think I both embrace and criticize that Kardashian/influencer behavior and aesthetic in my work. I criticize it only because I relate to it, and have always related to it, even before I knew it existed.
What’s your hope for this work?
My hope is for us to think critically about our collective anxieties around aging. I think that will better prepare us for the mind games we play when those anxieties are exploited by outside forces, like advertising and social media.
How do you feel image-sharing will affect your generation long term?
I think the consumption part of image-sharing will make us become more desensitized to everything. I also know that sharing images is exhausting, and I’m sure that exhaustion will have some collective effect on our generation.
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