Marissa Villacampa is a 22-year-old photographer born and raised in a small, suburban town in New Jersey. She graduated this past May from the School of Visual Arts with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Photography and Video. As a young girl, Villacampa’s appearance read more masculine rather than feminine which differentiated her from the rest of the girls. Her work pulls from these memories of her childhood, creating a melodrama confronting the performance of gender.
When I Was Seventeen
Beneath the surface, something else is manifesting. Once one can see passed what is seemingly matter of fact, layers of understanding can be reached – whether it’s through the use of familiar imagery or an image’s conversation with another. The truth eventually emerges.
The suburban landscape, although tightly knit from house to house, is teeming with the feelings of isolation and suppression. Starting as early as the 19th century, the working class of cities moved outward; small towns where Mom stayed home and Dad went elsewhere began to bloom. These bedroom communities consume majority of Northern New Jersey, and as one drives from town to town, not much changes. The houses are the same; the people are the same. Within these confined landscapes, societal constructs take root—forming ideals based on gender.
When I Was Seventeen is a series of photographs based off memories of coming to age in a small, suburban town. Villacampa’s work, both anecdotal and narrative in nature, creates a context within a mental landscape. The use of kitsch paired with poignant use of light and a subdued color palette induce darker, sarcastic undertones. The banal, when magnified, quickly becomes menacing and melodramatic. The reiteration of white vinyl fences, a familiar staple of suburban towns, creates a sense of confinement. The image of a flower, delicately tied to a fence that it’s growing around, at first seems commonplace; but once one looks passed the obvious imagery, the flower begins a conversation about the growth of femininity and its restrictions. The photographs are representations, creating associations and visual cues leading the viewer through a storyline. When I Was Seventeen creates a discourse confronting the monotonous lifestyle and idealized roles within the suburban construct. Do you know the girl next door?
ALL MY FRIENDS ARE CUTE AND BLONDE
All my friends are cute and blonde. I’m tall. Taller than everyone in the grade. I can still fit into my communion dress. My friends played soccer, and I joined the team so I could lose weight. Our coach told us there was a cancer on the team, but what he really meant was that he’s a dick.
“Take a good hard look in the mirror,” he says. Slap yourself across the face if you didn’t give it your all. Ten laps. It’s Friday, and I’m the first to go at the spelling bee. f-r-i-d-a-y? I forget to say capital. I’m the first one out. I try not to cry. I rip my blinds from my window, screaming your name.
All my friends are cute and blonde. It’s freezing, and I get a hard soccer ball to the face. My hands are down my pants. My father tells me to stop. I decide to quit cheerleading over a meal at taco bell because second grade is stressful enough.
I hide my nails because I have them painted another color besides light pink. He makes fun of me because my head is big, but doesn’t he realize that his head is bigger? I wear capris in the summer, just like my mother. It’s my communion, and I’m making out with a girl in my room. Blood runs from my nose, all over my butterfly shirt.
All my friends are cute and blonde. I convinced mom to take me to Abercrombie to buy that shirt she has, but I don’t want her to think I’m copying her—because I am. I run my first 400, and I’m the anchor. I come out too hard—as I always do.
You shut off the lights in your basement while we stand there with our pants to our knees. Your mom tells me I can never come back, but all I can think about is the popcorn. Tears streaming down my face. I’m crying at my prom, and you’re saying it’s our prom. Why won’t my mom let me nair my mustache?
All my friends are cute and blonde. I have dark hair so I use my mother’s razor in the shower. I’m bleeding. Everyone loved me after I won the championship for my team. They were the only two points I scored all game.
I lie to myself in my own diary. You told me I couldn’t be your friend unless I ate pencil shavings; I did it, and were still not friends. I punch the wall of the bathroom stall until my hands bleed.
All my friends are cute and blonde. I get caught cheating on a spelling test I know all the answers to. You tell us to look under the table, and you show me something I’ve never seen before. We sing to you in order to impress you, but I’m a horrible singer in Kindergarten.
I’m coming up on the last 100 meters, and I make the mistake of looking back. As I always do. I think I’m my mom’s childhood dog so I start to act like one. He’s my first boyfriend; I’m his 19th. You steal a frisbee from K-Mart when you have enough money to buy every frisbee in the store.
All my friends are cute and blonde.You tell me your brother thinks I’m weird, so do you think I’m weird too? I’m impulsive. I fell down the fire escape. I should be less careless. She didn’t even move.
I’m on a school bus, and I’m the oldest one here. The kids notice my facial hair. My first pair of Abercrombie jeans were ripped and too tight. I show up to your house, and your mom greets me with, “I didn’t know you were invited”. My mom threatens to throw my laptop out the front door. I realize that we’re the same.
All my friends are cute and blonde. Watching my sims woo-hoo is turning me on. All those inside jokes from you and your moms at the Great Wolf Lodge. I get insulted when the class tells me that my hair is black. We hold hands in the back of Shakespeare class. There is no catharsis. You flip over a picnic table because your dad wasn’t there for you. I run.
I’m drunk in Italy telling you I’d hookup with your little brother. You tell me no strings, but my thread count is more than you can handle. My grandma tells me I can’t go fishing with the boys. She’s yelling. I drop my toast with jelly onto the cream carpet.
All my friends are cute and blonde. We’re running to her room, but it’s too late. My moms crying on a beautiful day, but I don’t hear her. I didn’t realize what it meant for him to say that he hates girls. Your frat won’t save you from seeing yourself.
Those don’t look like scratches from a thorn bush, but I believed you anyway. Its New Years Eve, and I’m taking things from their kitchen. I’m drunk, standing in the corner with a nose bleed. It makes me sick, but I do it anyway because I can. You call me to tell me you got caught stealing jewelry from JC Penny. New friends will get you into trouble.
All my friends are cute and blonde. You show me exactly what a facade is all about. My father tells me I was better at soccer than I was at basketball. I only do it if I’m good at it. The older girls don’t like me. You tell me you said nothing. I leave a gallon of your favorite ice cream on your door step. I thought I was proving a point.
All my friends are cute and blonde. When I was seventeen, I didn’t realize what it meant for him to hate his mom. I get cyberbullied for posting Beatles lyrics to my Facebook status. His father died two months into our relationship. I didn’t call. I didn’t go to the wake.
I go to the wrestling match to watch you straddle another boy. The room is dark except for the spotlight. Sweat glistening. I crawl on all fours down my stairs, face first into the linoleum. I guess I’m not a dog. It’s 6:05 AM, and I’m worried I should’ve spent my time doing something else.
To view more of Marissa’s amazing work, please visit her website.