Zora Sicher documents the evolution of her closest relationships in ‘Progreso 110,’ a collection of platonic love letters, outfit changes, and screenshots.
For the past two years, 23-year-old photographer Zora Sicher has been splitting her time between New York City and Mexico City. During that time she has forged some of her closest personal friendships and amassed a treasure trove of material tracing their development—from photographs to late night emails, love letters, FaceTime screenshots, and McDonald’s french fry packets. Zora recently transferred a year’s worth of these into a new book, Progreso 110, a 192-page visual narrative named for the address of the Mexico City apartment she shared with three friends. One of them was Samantha Menchaca Rodriguez, who became Zora’s muse and welcomed her into her own family. Document sat down with Zora—who has also photographed for Gucci, Barragan, and Pringle of Scotland—to discuss the various visual forms relationships take on, how friends become family, and the status of nudity in the digital age.
Allie Monck—What is the difference between ‘taking images’ in Mexico City and taking them in NYC?
Zora Sicher—I don’t really think there’s any difference between ‘taking images’ in Mexico City and NYC necessarily, my question about ‘taking images’ emphasizes the concept of taking as it’s changed, versus what it may have used to mean. It’s not about either of the spaces. The book includes film, digital images, video stills, scanned objects and papers, screenshots of instagram videos that were sent to me, so ultimately my investigation here is, ‘What’s the difference between me taking a photograph of you sitting right in front of me on my camera versus me taking a screenshot—a snap of the video you took and sent to me on this app that allows us to send content for seconds until it disappears—and somehow attempting to simulate reality?’ I think this book is a lot about what that means in the space and discourse of photography, and the possession of imagery in a world where almost nothing solely ‘belongs’ to us.
Allie—What does family mean to you, and how can it be built within different cities or living environments?
Zora—More recently I felt like I’ve really created my own family, and [I was thinking about] what that feels like [to have] this really strong support group. And that goes for New York and Mexico City, but what’s interesting is that now those two worlds are definitely combined. As just a cultural difference, I really felt a welcoming, emotionally and physically, from all the friends I made [in Mexico City] and their families. I always joke about how I’ve been “adopted” a couple times there…
Allie—I’ve felt that when I’ve traveled before too, there’s this odd acceptance of people off the bat.
Zora—Yeah, and I think that maybe—I wouldn’t say it was uncomfortable at first, but just different. I think the book for me has a lot to do with that—family and new definitions of relationships and sort of “classic gestures” of love and romance. And romance [not being just] conventionally romantic situations.
Allie—I was wondering if any of the images were styled, or did you ever at any point go, ‘Okay, I’d like for you to put this on and then we’re gonna go in here and we’re gonna do this,’ or were they all very kind of in the moment?
Zora—Not really… But sometimes I suppose certain situations or outfits are more prompted. That’s the mystery! Most of these are candid, more documentary. I have pretty strong relationships with everyone who I photographed in the book, meaning that a lot of time was spent with them, leaving room for a variety of situations when we took the photos.
Allie—There is a lot of nudity in your images and I think that reflects the intimacy you’ve spoken about. Tumblr recently announced it’s taking all porn down, and a lot of people talk about the website being a safe space for queer kids who aren’t able to figure out and explore their identity elsewhere. It felt relevant to your work for me. Even when I went on your Instagram I was surprised to see some of the images hadn’t been taken down…
Zora—I understand people needing to censor full-on sex on certain platforms…But, I don’t know, I don’t think that they should do that on Tumblr at all. I think there needs to be more of a conversation about it…Sometimes my photos get deleted, like photos of my friend when she was pregnant, then breastfeeding. I don’t know how it works, whether people really are reporting things or if now there’s an algorithm that’s auto-censoring nipples, etcetera. I think there needs to be proper discussion about what it all is, but I’m obviously very anti-censorship, pro-nudity, pro-sex work, and [there needs] to be space for it. It’s about educating people, about where it goes and where it comes from, and giving them new perspectives as well.
Allie—And I guess, too, to kind of follow up, do you ever worry about your work getting overtly sexualized in certain ways?
Zora—I just think that throughout history [we have] lacked a certain perspective, or “gaze,” as we like to say. I suppose I have worried about it? Of course the most likes that I end up getting, ironically then, are my photos where nipples slide past the censor, or there is some sort of implied nudity. And then I am not worried, because I think while simultaneously trying to desexualize certain situations, I don’t want to avoid the nature of sex and intimacy and that it’s a huge part of our lives. I don’t know where down the line I decided it was my duty to be a part of that voice. But for me it’s absolutely necessary, and I think it’s also something that I really want to see, how that can translate. I’m all for not hiding it. It’s cool to hear, most specifically from women, the response to my photos in terms of nudes is always been, ‘It feels true, or identifiable,’ and understanding that vulnerability, and that there’s some sort of dialogue between us. That’s really important to me, not having all these bodies just be bodies, that they’re more than that.