There’s a certain vulnerability that every child feels. Trapped in a somewhat powerless state, children turn to any escape method they can. For Portland-based photographer Alicia J. Rose, burying herself in books and her imagination was the best way to hide from her family’s financial struggles. She channeled that vulnerability in the most artistic ways she could—through music, directing music videos, and photography. “It’s what artists do,” she says. “They use art to work out their shit.” And at 41, she’s still letting her imagination run free. “I prefer to be uncontrolled.”
Rose’s photos explode with quirky and fantastical ideas. Each image tells a colorful story, often humorous and intriguing. Whether its capturing the grace and romanticism of the Portland Cello Project musicians, The Decemberists dressed as military personnel, or tip-toeing ballerina flight attendants, Rose knows how to shoot the most powerfully visual angle.
On a quest to reveal her vulnerability, Rose has created her own adaptations of Grimm’s fairy tales. Using a Hasselblad 503CW camera, the stories of Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White are told with incredible costumes, details, and drag queens. With Snow White, Rose transformed the seven dwarves into the Seven Deadly Drag Queen Sins, an eerie, erotic spin on the already disturbing tale. These interpretations of femininity connect to Rose’s warped mind, as she turns a confused and troubling past into something beautiful. “It’s not just me. It’s every person I’ve met that’s told me stories about their fucked-up childhood and the fact that they’ve gotten through it, in a way, with creativity and imagination. That’s how they survived,” she says.
Rose creates a vivid world to escape to—and from. In Snow White, Her Heart, The Queen, 10-year-old Snow White clutches a stuffed animal heart. “Her literally wearing her heart shows a physical analogy to that vulnerability,” she says. “The fact that she still has it shows that there’s hope.” The dichotomy between fear and hope pours out of the photo, but Rose’s interpretation of the fairytale offers the idea of finding strength in extreme circumstances. “Things can get better,” she says.
Many of Rose’s themes—vulnerability, sanity, children, power, gender bending—all creep into the images in her “Fairytales” series. Another photo in the series, The Poisoning 2, shows Snow White passed out on the ground, with the Queen and the drag queens behind her. Unlike the dwarves who save Snow White from the Queen’s harm, the Seven Deadly Drag Queen Sins are too busy with themselves to care. “The dwarves themselves were really selfish. They may have saved her but it was only so they’d clean her house,” Rose says. “Drag queens are obviously selfish. That’s the whole point.”
“Fairytales—Images of the Harrowing and Enchanted,” an exhibition of photographs by Alicia J. Rose and Jewish fairy-tale paintings by Portland painter Rachel C. Blumberg, will be on display through September 25 at One Mile Gallery in Kingston. Curated by Shawna Gore. (845) 338-2035; www.onemilegallery.com.