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A N N i E l o P E Z : C yA N ot y P E s C o N v E y i N g P E r s o N A l N A r r At i v E Alexandra gray ’17


nnie Lopez describes Medical Conditions as a kind of “personal armor” that allows her to explore topics such as gender and cultural identity, fear of her father’s illness, and worries about her own mortality (fig. 40).1 Lopez is a contemporary photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. After working primarily with 35 mm film, she became interested in the cyanotype process, a medium that allows her to use text, fabric, and color to convey personal narrative. Lopez often discusses her position as a Mexican American woman in her work, using autobiographical experiences to connect with a larger audience. In Medical Conditions, Lopez depicted personal anxieties associated with her father’s Alzheimer’s disease and incorporated her cultural heritage by printing the cyanotype images onto tamale paper. The way she links personal and cultural identity can be connected to the work of Brooke Williams, another artist in this exhibition who uses personal stories to reflect on her racial identity.2 Medical Conditions is part of a series of fourteen dresses. To create each dress, Lopez printed at least twenty cyanotypes onto individual tamale papers. She then sewed the paper onto dress forms taken from the latter half of the twentieth century. Medical Conditions is a knee-length dress with an empire waist, short puffed sleeves, and a scoop neckline. It is made up of three iconographic elements: numbers, text, and images. The front of the dress has medical text placed horizontally across the bust with images of more medical text and number charts located vertically at the waist and hem. The skirt has two x-ray images, one of a brain and one of Lopez’s own broken arm. The left sleeve contains an image of biological cells, and the right sleeve shows text written on children’s lined paper stating, “you should help your mother more.” The back of the dress has repeating images of the two x-rays, medical text, and number charts featured on the front.3 Medical Conditions is a symbolic self-portrait. To Lopez, the dress form represents social expectations about appropriate femininity. She recalls that she considered herself a tomboy as a child, making this dress an example of the “Annie that I could have been.”4 Returning to gender expectations as an

adult allows Lopez to confront and revise childhood deviance by addressing feminine ideals. Lopez made the dress out of cyanotypes printed on tamale paper, the material implicitly revealing her Mexican American background. Lopez uses meaningful form and material to reflect her own sense of personal identity.5 Through its iconography, Medical Conditions expresses Lopez’s anxieties surrounding her father’s dementia. Her extensive investigation of his Alzheimer’s disease is conveyed through a plethora of medical text and encyclopedia definitions, including a definition of the term disease, a description of dementia, as well as dosage measurements for medications. Lopez distanced herself from her father’s heartbreaking situation by using publicly available medical texts to symbolize his illness and choosing not to incorporate personal images of the man himself. She may have selected publicly available images in order to protect herself against feeling powerless. Photography can be, in Susan Sontag’s words, a “defense against anxiety, and a tool of power,” and here Lopez used it to gain understanding of her father’s illness while simultaneously creating an object that memorializes his life.6 Deeply examining her father’s illness forced Lopez to confront her own fears of illness and mortality, and Medical Conditions became, in a way, a memento mori, a reminder that life is finite.7 While her father was ill, Lopez had, in her words, “brains on the brain,” becoming obsessed with medical texts and overwhelmed at the number of medical problems that one can experience.8 Lopez constantly thought of her own health, and she worried that she would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s as well. The mysterious number charts symbolize her realization that numbers can dictate one’s life, or, as she said, the “odds that something is coming to get you.”9 The x-ray from her own broken arm is the only photograph in the work that references a specific historical moment. Unlike her use of medical texts and imagery, which are public, impersonal, and transcend time, this x-ray memorializes a concrete, personal event. The image directly refers to the artist’s fear of her own bodily fragility and impending death, connecting her to her father’s illness.10

Fig. 40: Annie lopez, American, born 1958, Medical Conditions, 2013, cyanotype on tamale paper, Courtesy of the Artist 80

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period  
Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period  

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period Edited by Nancy Kathryn Burns, Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Kristina Wilson...