Joana Toro

 

New York, United States. Self portrait right through an eye hole in the head of my Hello Kitty costume. Immigrants dressed up as entertainment symbols ask for donations after posing for pictures in Times Square. 2014 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. Self portrait right through an eye hole in the head of my Hello Kitty costume. Immigrants dressed up as entertainment symbols ask for donations after posing for pictures in Times Square. 2014 ©Joana Toro.

May’s featured photographer is Joana Toro

Joana is a self-taught photojournalist based in New York City. She was born in Bogotá, Colombia. She worked as a staff photographer with the major magazines and newspapers in her native country. In 2009, the Colombian Ministry of Culture awarded her the national photography prize for her documentation of cultural heritage. Her work is included in the 2012 Latin American Photography Collection of American Photography.

 In 2011, Joana migrated to the United States to pursue her career as a documentarian and artist. Her personal project, “I Am Hello Kitty” documents her own experience as a Latina immigrant in NYC. “I Am Hello Kitty” was featured on The New York Times LENS blog in 2014.

Joana is a 2014-2015 En Foco fellow. She is a member of Guild and a contributor to Redux Pictures.

Joana recently published her first monograph, Masked (oodee, London, 2014). Masked was inaugurated with a group exhibition at the Galería Valenzuela Klenner in Bogotá. Masked is sold out.

To see more of Joana Toro’s work, here.

I am Hello Kitty

Being Latino immigrant to the United States is an enormous challenge, even with correct immigration papers. Many immigrants find themselves working jobs that US citizens avoid, struggling in precarious or humiliating conditions for little money. This project documents my own personal experience working for tips as a street entertainment worker – dressed up as Hello Kitty – in NYC’s Times Square. While studying English in NYC, I had to resort to this difficult and poorly paid work in order to pay for my schooling.

This strange job is carried out by several hundred immigrants, almost entirely Latinos. As entertainment workers, we stand for pictures with tourists and their children who are thrilled to pose with their favorite cartoon figures. Yet, even as we help to create the lively, colorful panorama that males Time Square a prime destination for tourists, we are often subject to insults, sexual groping and other humiliations by passer-bys. Many do not view us as human beings but rather as toys for their amusement or as objects of contempt.

I am Hello Kitty documents my personal struggle to make a livelihood and find my ‘identity’ in the United States. This is a truly bizarre situation: As Hello Kitty, I am no longer Joana Toro, professional photographer and student, but rather a globally recognized cartoon character, who, at the very same time, is despised by anti-immigrant Americans as a pest or even a threat to the identity of the United States. I document this experience both in traditional journalistic terms and also subjectively, as viewed through n eye hole in the head of my Hello Kitty costume. With the I Am Hello Kitty project, I seek to provoke a reflection on the struggle of Latin migrants in the USA and the ironies of immigrant life on the margins of a globalized world.

New York, United States. General view right through an eye hole in the head of my Hello Kitty costume. Immigrants dressed up as entertainment symbols ask for donations after posing for pictures in Times Square. 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. General view right through an eye hole in the head of my Hello Kitty costume. Immigrants dressed up as entertainment symbols ask for donations after posing for pictures in Times Square. 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. Doña Berta,55,from Mexico repairs her Minnie Mouse costume at her house in New Jersey. 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States.
Doña Berta,55,from Mexico repairs her Minnie Mouse costume at her house in New Jersey. 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. A Peruvian senior who works alone in Times Square having lunch 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. A Peruvian senior who works alone in Times Square having lunch 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. Portrait of Carlos and his wife usual performers in Time Square 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States.
Portrait of Carlos and his wife usual performers in Time Square 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. Immigrants change into their costumes in local restaurants, on the street, and in the subway in Times Square. 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. Immigrants change into their costumes in local restaurants, on the street, and in the subway in Times Square. 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. Immigrant dressed up as Cokie Monster ask for donations after posing for pictures in Times Square. 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. Immigrant dressed up as Cookie Monster ask for donations after posing for pictures in Times Square. 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. General view right through an eye hole in the head of my Hello Kitty costume. Immigrants dressed up as entertainment symbols ask for donations after posing for pictures in Times Square. 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. General view right through an eye hole in the head of my Hello Kitty costume. Immigrants dressed up as entertainment symbols ask for donations after posing for pictures in Times Square. 2013 ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States. street performances of Time square unidet into the asociation "artist united for a smile" A.U.S celebrate Labor day Parade for first time in Manhattan streets. ©Joana Toro
New York, United States. street performances of Time square unidet into the asociation “artist united for a smile” A.U.S celebrate Labor day Parade for first time in Manhattan streets. ©Joana Toro
New York, United States. Immigrants dressed up as Minnie Mouse ask for donations after posing for pictures in Times Square in New York, 2013. ©Joana Toro.
New York, United States.
Immigrants dressed up as Minnie Mouse ask for donations after posing for pictures in Times Square in New York, 2013. ©Joana Toro.

Interview with Joana Toro

Foto Féminas: How did you come to be a photographer?

Joana Toro: It happened by chance after I’d studied graphic design for three semesters. I realised photography was my language of expression so I left my studies and started working as an assistant reporter for a newspaper. After this I continued to take photos for eleven years within the Colombian media scene but later I decided to go freelance and concentrate on my own projects. I then moved to New York four years ago.

FF: How did the I am Hello Kitty project come about?

JT: It arose in response to something I had no choice but to do at that moment of my life. My response to this difficult job was to transform it into a creative project. The first day I went to Times Square I saw its potential and took some photos. It took me several months to start shooting in a consistent way. During that period of my life I started out viewing this work as a way to pay for my studies. Later it was transformed into a way of documenting an aspect of the lives of immigrants in NYC.

FF: What do you look to represent in your photographic projects?

JT: My stories aim to solely document “minorities” and various aspects of their lives. This is because for me, these people are incredibly brave and exemplify how to live life in a dignified and happy manner despite the many difficulties they face.


La fotógrafa del mes de Mayo es Joana Toro

Joana Toro es una fotoperiodista autodidacta. Actualmente vive en Nueva York pero nació en Bogotá, Colombia. Ha trabajado como fotógrafa para revistas y periódicos importantes en su país. En 2009 el Ministerio de Cultura de Colombia le otorgó el premio de la Fotografía Nacional por su documentación en patrimonio cultural. Su trabajo fue incluido en la Colección de Fotografía Latinoamericana (2012) entre Fotografía Americana.

En 2012, Joana emigró a los Estados Unidos para seguir con su carrera como una artista documental. Su proyecto personal, I Am Hello Kitty, documenta su propia experiencia como inmigrante latina en NYC. En 2014 I Am Hello Kitty fue publicado en LENS blog de fotoperiodismo del New York Times.

Durante el 2014-2015 el trabajo de Joana fue publicado en En Foco, una plataforma que promueve las bellas artes y la fotografía documental de grupos de personas diversos en etnias. Asimismo, Joana es socia de Guild y colaboradora de Redux Pictures.

Recientemente Toro publicó su primer monografía, Masked (oodee, London, 2014). Masked fue lanzado durante una muestra colaborativa en la Galería Valenzuela Klenner de Bogotá. Desde su publicación las primeras copias ya se han agotado.

I am Hello Kitty

Ser un inmigrante latinoamericano en los Estados Unidos es un desafío enorme así tengas los papeles de inmigración correctos. Muchos inmigrantes se encuentran trabajando en condiciones peligrosas , humillantes y por poco dinero. Suelen ser trabajos que ciudadanos estadounidenses evitan. Este proyecto narra mi experiencia personal al trabajar en el entretenimiento de calle, vestida como ‘Hello Kitty’- en el Times Square en Nueva York. Durante mis estudios para aprender inglés como último recurso, tenía que trabajar así. Poco dinero , un trabajo de segunda era la único que encontre para financiar mis estudios.

Este trabajo suelen ser inmigrantes y la gran mayoría son Latinoamericanos. Como trabajadores del entretenimiento de calle estamos de pie todo el día para hacernos fotos con muchos turistas, ya que son sus hijos los que se emocionan viendo a sus personajes favoritos. A pesar de que contribuimos a un panorama colorido, Times Square es un destino muy popular para los turistas. En esta parte tan conocida de la ciudad, quedamos sometidos a insultos, agresiones físicas y otras humillaciones por transeúntes. Mucha gente no nos ve como seres humanos sino como juguetes para su diversión o como objetos.

I am Hello Kitty, documenta mi lucha para ganarme la vida y descubrir mi identidad en los Estados Unidos. Esta situación fue verdaderamente extraña, pues cuando era ‘Hello Kitty’ era también Joana Toro, fotógrafa profesional y estudiante. El hecho de ser un dibujo animado globalmente reconocido y al mismo tiempo, ser despreciado por Estadounidenses anti-inmigración y visto como una molestia o incluso una amenaza a los Estados Unidos. Intenté documentar esta experiencia de manera periodística y también con connotaciones subjetivas. Gracias a que viví la experiencia a través de los ojos de la careta de mi disfraz de Hello Kitty. Con este proyecto I Am Hello Kitty estoy buscando provocar una reacción a la lucha de los inmigrantes Latinos dentro Los Estados Unidos y la ironía de la vida inmigrante en márgenes de un mundo globalizado.

Foto Féminas: ¿Cómo llegas a la fotografía?

Joana Toro: Llego por casualidad en los 3 semestres de diseño gráfico vi que la fotografía era mi lenguaje de expresión deje los estudios y empece a trabajar como reportera pasante en un periódico y después me quede haciendo fotos por 11 anos en medios Colombianos después decidí ser freelance y concentrarme en mis propios proyectos. Hace 4 anos vivo en NYC.

FF: ¿Cómo surgió el proyecto ‘I am Hello Kitty’?

JT: Surgió como una respuesta a una necesidad en ese momento de mi vida. Pude dar un vuelco creativo una situación laboralmente difícil.

El primer dia que fui a Times Square vi el potencial de eso y tome algunas fotos pero me costo varios meses empezar a disparar de manera consiente primero comence a verlo como un trabajo para pagar mis estudios en ese tiempo y luego se fue trasformando en una manera de documentar un aspecto de la vida de los inmigrantes en NYC.

FF ¿Qué buscas representar en tus proyectos fotográficos?

JT: Mis historias buscan solo documentar principalmente “minorías” en muchos aspectos de sus vidas por que estas personas para mi son muy valiosas enseñan mucho de como vivir la vida ser digno y feliz a pesar de las dificultades.

Para ver mas el trabajo de Joana Toro, aquí.

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