A discussion of “Ricas y Famosas” by Daniela Rossell

In Uncategorized on January 3, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Daniela Rossell’s “Ricas y Famosas” exists in what might be considered a interzone of artists’ books.  This is a tricky space.

By works like this I mean books of photography.  But, what are Bernd and Hilla Becher’s books if not artists’ books?

In an effort to escape this dangerous interzone, I’ll take a look at the book.

Ricas y Famosas was published by Hatje Cantz and printed in Spain in 2002.  The book is paperback, with 176 pages at 8.5 x 12.5 inches.  All the photographs are in color and most span the gutter.  Many of the photographs also take up entire pages, with no margins whatsoever.  The paper is glossy and sturdy, but not thick.

The book opens with the following statement:

Las siguientes imágenes muestran escenarios reales.  Los sujetos fotografiados están representándos a sí mismos.  Caulquier semejanza con las realidad no es una coincidencia. The following images depict actual settings.  The photographic subjects are representing themselves.  Any resemblance with real events is not coincidental.

It is perhaps hard to imagine that the photograph below is an actual setting and is not staged:

(Apologies for the quality of digital reproduction)

Speaking of truthful, honest, or realistic photographic depiction is slippery, but this is the discourse of Ricas y Famosas.  All text in the book speaks to the validity of the assertion that what we are looking at is real.  Daniela Rossell’s biographical portrait reads, “Daniela Rossell was born during the seventies in Mexico City, and grew up in a very ornamented estate with fiberglass replicas of Olmec heads in the garden.”  Rossell herself helps to validate the real by asserting that, this book depicts something not only about these women, the extreme wealth of a few in Mexico, but also her life and her world at a certain time.

Visually, the real is accentuated most fully in the photographs that take up the entire page space, with no margins or “negative space.”  This operates by bringing the viewer fully into the world of these women (and a few men).  This is their world entirely and the lack of margins allows the viewer to feel that this world is all-encompassing and expansive.  Without enclosure, we can imagine the image opening up in front of us, as if we could enter the scene.

Rossell dedicates the book to “the people that appear in it,” thanking “each and every one of them for opening the doors to their homes and workplaces and for having the strong character needed to be photographed next to their personal belongings.”  But, from the perspective of one outside this oligarchy, these images are incredibly damning.  It is impossible to not recognize the political elements of this book, the juxtaposition of the extremely wealthy with their “help,” the presentation of the women as sexually charged and doll-like, the insistence on a “whitening” of the self, the use of indigenous and religious material as kitsch decoration, and on and on.  While the images are telling of lives of the uber-rich in Mexico and the specific ways in which they display their wealth, it is important to not view these images and the political problems therein as uniquely Mexican, for unfortunately the gratuitous nature of the rich spans the globe.

What we have is not only an interesting, absorbing, and in some ways disgusting portrait of a group of people, but also a collection of photographs which consciously use the book form.  This is spoken to by the Rossell’s acknowledgment (I am using Rossell’s name here also as a stand-in for the book designer and publisher who probably also had a hand in creating this work) of the dimensions of reproduction, the recognition of how a page functions, and a careful consideration of the type of paper used to create the work.

While the book is not groundbreaking in the world of artists’ books, it is a competent use of the form coupled with striking visual work.

On that note, I will leave off with another one of Rossell’s images, keeping in mind that the digital reproductions do little justice to the actual images.


  1. A fine review!

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