Laura Aguilar

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Laura Aguilar
Born(1959-10-26)October 26, 1959
DiedApril 25, 2018(2018-04-25) (aged 58)
Notable work
  • Three Eagles Flying
  • The Plush Pony Series
  • Clothed/Unclothed

Laura Aguilar (October 26, 1959 – April 25, 2018) was an American photographer. She was born with auditory dyslexia and attributes her start in photography to her brother who showed her how to develop in dark rooms.[1] She was mostly self-taught although she took some photography courses at East Los Angeles College where her second solo exhibition Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell was held.[2] She is well known for her portraits, mostly of herself and also focused upon people in marginalized communities including LGBT and Latino subjects and obese people.


Aguilar was the daughter of a first-generation Mexican-American father. Her mother is of mixed Mexican and Irish heritage.[1] She had auditory dyslexia and developed an early interest in photography as a medium.[1] She attended Schurr High School in Montebello, California. In 1987, during a high school photography class, she met Gil Cuadros, a Mexican-American poet who was diagnosed with AIDS. [3] Cuadros would accompany Aguilar to Downtown Los Angeles for pictures.

Aguilar was active as a photographer from the 1980s on.[4] She was mainly self-taught, although she studied for a time at East Los Angeles Community College and participated in The Friends of Photography Workshop and Santa Fe Photographic Workshop.[5]

Aguilar worked primarily in the genre of portraiture. Her work centers on the human form[1] and challenges contemporary social constructs of beauty, focusing upon Latina lesbians, black people, and the obese.[6] According to critics, she often used self-portraiture to come to terms with her own body as she challenged societal norms of sexuality, class, gender, and race.[7][8] In her series Stillness (1996–99), Motion (1999) and Center (2001), she, according to critics, fused portraiture with the genres of landscape and still life.[1] Aguilar stated that her artistic goal was"to create photographic images that compassionately render the human experience, revealed through the lives of individuals in the lesbian/gay and/or persons of color communities."[9]

Aguilar's works have appeared in more than 50 national and international exhibitions,[10] including the 1993 Venice Biennial, Italy; the Los Angeles City Hall Bridge Gallery, the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), the Los Angeles Photography Center, and the Women's Center Gallery at the University of California in Santa Barbara.[11][12] She was a 2000 recipient of an Anonymous Was A Woman Award and the James D. Phelan Award in photography in 1995.[13] Her work is held in a number of public collections, including those at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Indiana University, Bloomington; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York City.[14][15] She had her first retrospective at the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College as part of the Pacific Standard Time LA/LA series of exhibitions in 2017–18.[16]

Aguilar died of complications from diabetes in a Long Beach, California nursing home: Colonial Care Center, at the age of 58.[17]


Nudes and Self Portraits Much of Aguilar's work is self-portraiture in the nude, these series include Stillness, Motion[18], Grounded,[19] Center[20] and Nature Self-Portraits[21]

Clothed/ Unclothed Series (1990-1994)[22] A series of diptychs depicting a range of subjects including people from LGBT, straight, Latino and black communities. The first photograph shows the subjects clothed and the second unclothed.

In Sandy's Room 1989 is a self-portrait.[23] It shows Laura laying back in a chair in front of an open window.

Three Eagles Flying 1990 is a triptych.[24] At the center Aguilar is bound by rope with the Mexican flag around her head and the American flag around her hips. The panel on her left is a photo of the Mexican flag and on her right, is the American flag.

Latina Lesbian Series 1986-1990[25] is a series of black and white portraits of lesbian women mostly commissioned by Yolanda Retter sponsored by Connexxus,[26] underneath each portrait are handwritten notes from the women in the photos.

Plush Pony Series 1992 is Aguilar's attempt to show all sides of the Latina Lesbian community. Aguilar set up in the East Los Angeles lesbian bar called The Plush Pony and took photographs of the patrons creating a series of black and white portraits of the lower working class community.[10][27]

Critical reception[edit]

Critics and scholars closely identify Aguilar's work with Chicana feminism; one writer observes that "Aguilar consciously moves away from the societally normative images of Chicana female bodies and disassociates them from male-centered nostalgia or idealizations."[28] Chon A. Noriega, director of the Chicano Studies Research Center at University of California, Los Angeles, notes that Aguilar is unusual for the way she "collaborates with subjects who are her peers so that her works is not about power differentials between photographer and subject as is often, if implicitly the case with ... the social documentary tradition itself."[29] Her more recent self-portraits, according to critics, navigate her personal intersection of identities as Latina, lesbian, dyslexic, and obese.[20] Her best known series is often considered to be Latina Lesbians, (1986–89)[1] which she started in order to help show a positive image of Latina lesbians for a mental health conference.[9] Other popular works include Clothed/Unclothed (1990–94), Plush Pony (1992), and Grounded (2006–07), with the latter being her first body of work done in color.[19] Reviewer A. M. Rousseau notes: "[Aguilar] makes public what is most private. By this risky act she transgresses familiar images of representation of the human body and replaces stereotypes with images of self-definition. She reclaims her body for herself."[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Leimer, Ann Marie (2008). "Chicana Photography: The Power of Place". National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Annual Conference. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  2. ^ "Laura Aguilar Show and Tell". UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.
  3. ^ "Andy Campbell on Laura Aguilar". Retrieved 2019-03-19.
  4. ^ Haggerty, George E.; Zimmerman, Bonnie (2000). Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures. p. 65.
  5. ^ "Aguilar, Laura". Social Networks and Archival Context Project. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  6. ^ Lopez, Alma. "Queer Arts in Los Angeles: Laura Aguilar".
  7. ^ Smith, Sidonie Ann; Watson, Julia Anne (2002). Interfaces: Women, Autobiography, Image, Performance. p. 69.
  8. ^ a b Rojas, Maythee (2009). Women of Color and Feminism. p. 130.
  9. ^ a b "Laura Aguilar - Statement". Retrieved 2017-02-08.
  10. ^ a b "Biography of Laura Aguilar". Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
  11. ^ Fuller, Diana Burgess; Salvioni, Daniela (2002). Art, Women, California 1950-2000: Parallels and Intersections. p. 254.
  12. ^ Ruiz, Vicki L.; Korrol, Virginia Sánchez (2006). Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia. p. 64.
  13. ^ Bright, Deborah (1998). The Passionate Camera: Photography and Bodies of Desire. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-14582-4.
  14. ^ "Laura Aguilar: LACMA Collections". Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  15. ^ "Laura Aguilar". The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  16. ^ "Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell" (PDF). Vincent Price Art Museum. September 1, 2017. Retrieved April 26, 2018.
  17. ^ Miranda, Carolina A. (April 25, 2018). "Photographer Laura Aguilar, chronicler of the body and Chicano identity, dies at 58". Los Angeles Times.
  18. ^ Shackleton, Mark (2008). Diasporic Literature and Theory. Cambridge Scholars. p. 162.
  19. ^ a b Luciano, Dana; Chen, Mel (2015). "Has the Queer ever been Human?" (PDF). Duke University Press. 21: 183–186.
  20. ^ a b Ressler, Susan. "Women Artists of the American West: Lesbian Photography on the U.S. West Coast 1972-1997". Women Artists of the American West. Purdue University, West Lafayette, India. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
  21. ^ Aguilar, Laura (Summer 2015). "Human Nature". Boom: A Journal of California. 5 (2): 22.
  22. ^ Fuller, Diana (2002). Fuller, Diana Burgess; Salvioni, Daniela (2002). Art, Women, California 1950-2000: Parallels and Intersections. University of California Press. p. 254. ISBN 9780520230668.
  23. ^ Patricia, Valladolid, (2008-05-01). "The Private and the Public in the Photography of Laura Aguilar - eScholarship".
  24. ^ Davis, Angela (2005). Beyond the Frame: Women of Color and Visual Representation. PALGRAVE MACMILLAN™. pp. 208–216. ISBN 1-4039-6533-1.
  25. ^ Di Certo, Alice (2006-06-09). "The Unconventional Photographic Self-Portraits of John Coplans, Carla Williams, and Laura Aguilar".
  26. ^ Zepeda, Susy (2012-01-01). "Tracing Queer Latina Diasporas: Escarvando Historical Narratives Of Ancestries And Silences" (PDF). UC Santa Cruz Electronic Theses and Dissertations: 200–202.
  27. ^ Miranda, Carolina A. (November 3, 2017). "Stories of the Plush Pony: Artist Laura Aguilar's portraits capture a lost era at a working-class lesbian bar". Los Angeles Times.
  28. ^ Perez, Daniel (2013). "Chicana Aesthtics: A View of Unconcealed Alterities and Affirmations of Chicana Identity through Laura Aguilar's Photographic Images". Lux: A Journal of Transdisciplinary Writing and Research from Claremont Graduate University. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
  29. ^ Noriega, Chon A. (May 2008). "Laura Aguilar: Clothed Unclothed: Challenging Normative Conceptions of the Body". UCLA Center for the Study of Women. Retrieved April 26, 2018.

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