For six years Daniela Edburg created photographs of women killed or almost killed by consumer goods. The result is Glamorous Death: a cheerful series with a blithely pop attitude, in which the author, a graduate of Fine Arts studies and relatively new to the world of photography, boldly and without compromise calls â€śthe western world’s greatest taboo.â€ť
Death and the maiden
Photos by Daniela Edburg, text by Josefina Licitra
Translated by Ted O’Callahan
“How would you like to die?” Daniela Edburg asked all her friends, in her sweet, girlish voice. It wasnâ€™t morbid curiosity but rather the beginning of a search. This was in 2001. Daniela was an art student and had to do her thesis. It occurred to her to think about death and to explore it in an unforgettable way. Glamorous Death was born. Itâ€™s a series of fantasiesâ€”her own and othersâ€”of what might happen in those last minutes.
â€śOf all the answers they gave me, the one that surprised me most was my friend Maria JosĂ©â€™s. She has a phobia of fruits and vegetables and on top of that is a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock. When we sat down at home to talk, she told me that once when a friend was eating a banana she was so disgusted that she couldnâ€™t open the door to leave. Shortly after that I saw Hitchcockâ€™s The Birds and had an inspiration.
“Death by Bananas” shows a woman being attacked by a barrage of, yes, murderous bananas. But this isnâ€™t the most absurd image. The series includes a young woman splayed on the door of an oven (”Death by Cake,” a tribute to Sylvia Plath), a body floating in a swimming pool ( â€śDeath by Lifesaver”), a girl at a picnic invaded by a battalion of gummy bears (”Death by Gummy Bears”), and another with a nose bleed after snorting lines of artificial sweetener (â€śDeath by Sweetener”); in short, the series depicts a host of women salaciously submitting to their own desires.
Daniela’s work began in 2001 as part of her thesis and ended in 2007 as part of an obsession. For six years, as if she were a gigantic, wild-haired fairy (her hair dyes included electric blue and magenta), Daniela threw herself into fulfilling gruesome fantasies both collective and unique. The result is a series of lively images fiendishly enumerating possible deaths by consumer culture.
â€śThe photos are very colorful. First, because in Mexico death is not that taboo, itâ€™s well accepted and the subject of humor. And second, because I feel much more comfortable working in color. I never thought of doing a photo in black and white. Throughout my studies my specialty was painting, and within that, color and composition. When it came time to do my thesis I couldnâ€™t do what I wanted to in paint because of my lack of skill in drawing, so I decided to use photography.â€ť
Until 2001, photography was not part of Danielaâ€™s plans. Her dream, since childhood, was to be a writer. Then she grew up and her parents were clear about her studies. “Philosophy and Literature? Forget it,â€ť they said. So Daniela studied journalism, which offered some hope of future work. From San Miguel de Allende, her home, she went to study in Mexico City. With that move came disappointment.
â€śMy classes were stifling. They were the opposite of what I liked to do. They talked about objectivity and truth. It was horrible! I think that frustration pushed me to find a field where I could do whatever I wanted.â€ť
Daniela transferred to the San Carlos Academy, part of the National University of Mexico. At that time, her relationship with photography consisted of nothing more than snapshots of details that caught her eye: a spot of coffee on the table, that sort of thing. Then came her thesis. That was the beginning.
â€śI finally understood that the best way to convey what I was imagining was the photographic image. I realized that I could construct, almost perfectly, what I was picturing. Iâ€™m talking about the kind of photos that almost come out of painting, whose creation comes entirely from the artist’s head.
What Daniela keeps in her head, in a thousand different ways, is her fascination for inert bodies. Collapsed, livid, sensual: there they are, dying or about to die, in a scene of splendid decadence.
â€śI have a fascination with death. I think it’s an extreme from which I can talk about many other subjects that interest me. For example, human nature. I think our notion of death shapes much our way of being in the world. Itâ€™s our awareness of death that changes everything, why we try to leave a mark on the world, why we want to be so creative, right? And it can be why we destroy ourselves. We have created an entire artificial world, and I think that comes from our notion of death. We are the way we are because death is with us.â€ť
The funny thing is that in many of your deaths the women are happy. Why did you decide to show this utopian, reassuring version of death?
â€śI guess I wanted to talk about the idea of giving in to pleasure no matter the consequences. Itâ€™s true that itâ€™s some half-utopian fantasy, but I think itâ€™s a great way of being in the world.â€ť
Another very common issue in these deaths is consumerism: many of the women are killed by heavily-marketed products. In that sense, the photos also invite ideological reading…
â€śI know. The series has all kinds of interpretations that are not the one I give it. Those other interpretations talk about consumer society, eating disorders, a whole range of things. But at the time, when I thought about making the pictures, I wasnâ€™t thinking about social criticism or anything except showing a unique way of being in the world. There are women who are victims of their own compulsion, and there are others who are victims of circumstance, situations that are beyond control. I also wanted to talk about that.
Daniela was born in Houston in 1975. Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries in Madrid, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Moscow, Barcelona, Paris, and Mexico City. In all cases, the shows have not only included the photographs from Glamorous Death, but also images from Killing Time and The Remains of the Day, two other series that again move blithely along the edge of morbidity.
To accomplish all this, Daniela sought help from people she knew.
â€śI started working with friends because I had no way to do anything else, and then it became a way of working that I liked. Since then, itâ€™s the only way Iâ€™ve done things. I donâ€™t like working with people I donâ€™t know. I feel that the project becomes richer when thereâ€™s more to the photo than the image itself.
How do your friends react to your proposals?
â€śWell, very well. It’s fun and easy, because it doesnâ€™t require much acting skills, right? They just have to be … dead.â€ť
And there is nothing easier than dying, says Daniela. And, going by her photos, thereâ€™s nothing more charming.