To gather material for Faces, Found Objects, and Rough Riders, Ulrike Ottinger attended festivals, processions, and cultural events in and around San Antonio, taking over 800 photographs along the way. The installation presents photographic portraits and ephemera from the area to investigate the foundation and practices of local cultures.
Presiding over the gallery is a monumental black and white photograph from a charreada, a Mexican rodeo. Ottinger captures the cowboy and his airborne lasso in a familiar image of the west. Nine smaller photographs flank the central mural and include staged and candid portraits, as well as a lone image of a plush red heart with angelic wings.
Ottinger imports the motif of this local “relic” into the other objects in the gallery by including hearts and feather crowns on photographs, frames, and even a longhorn steer. These shrine-like areas of found and altered objects—primarily symbolic tokens from Native American and Mexican cultures—unify the project and cast doubt on the assumed authenticity of the surrounding photographs. On display is Ottinger’s sketchbook for the project—a kind of storyboard that juxtaposes drawings with pictures, notes, and ethnographic postcards from the 1930s and 1940s.
The scrapbook-like form of Faces, Found Objects, and Rough Riders is appropriate. The installation is in large part an account of Ottinger’s exploration of San Antonio, a place rich with the creolization of German, Spanish, and Native American cultures. The project reveals not only how the medium of photography can simultaneously document and manipulate its subjects, but also the ways in which cultures change, influence, and borrow elements from one other. Through compelling juxtapositions, this work, like Ottinger’s others, exposes the complexities in notions of cultural difference.