Mari(o)lyn Diptych, Self-Portrait as Marilyn Monroe in "Marilyn Diptych" by Andy Warhol 1962 by Mario Elias

"I don't mind living in a man's world, so long as I can be a woman in it" - Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe has been a constant and consistent demonstration of feminine beauty and power for decades. She was sexy and sultry, and the most tragic of tragic figures. Some women may relate to her, others want to emulate her, and others yet may think she is a superficial figurehead of sexism and male dominance.  

Basic bitches worldwide attribute quotations to her in their instagram posts on the daily.  I'm not sure which ones she actually said, and I am not ashamed of using one that may not be hers for this post either. Her power does not lie in what she did or who she was. The power of Marilyn Monroe lies in the ideals, attributes, and iconography people have created around her. She was not just someone when she was alive, but she has grown to even greater heights posthumously.  

Andy Warhol is another figure similar to Ms. Monroe in that he was very interested in living a life that would get him remembered. He was creating quick pieces that packed a punch. He was living fast and not afraid to die young. Andy Warhol once said in the future everyone will have their own tiny little nugget of fame. Internet culture has definitely seen this premonition come to fruition.  


Warhol created "Marylin Diptych" in the weeks following her untimely overdose and subsequent death.  The original image was pulled by Warhol from promotional images for the 1953 film Niagra.  The actual photographer is unknown to me.   

This painting, which is actually 50 screen prints of the original image has been lauded by critics for decades for its multiplicity of meanings and its impact on popular culture. It was created as a tribute, but became a living being in itself.  I do not need to link the hundreds of variations this now canonized set-up has spawned. The huddled art hungry masses have absorbed and reduced the original down so many times, its gone far past a situation of being redundant to be almost a necessity for any artist playing around with art historical concepts.  So here's my send-up. A necessity for this project for sure.

Lange in there, baby... Self-Portrait as "Migrant Mother" Florence Owens Thompson by Mario Elias

"" - 

The Great Depression was a reality check for our entire country; with it, we saw the people at the top fall from great heights, we saw the people at the bottom gasping for air and grasping for a helping hand that wasn't there.  The Dust Bowl was pretty much a horrendous joke played by the-bully-formally-known-as-The-Universe to literally kick sand in our eyes and beat all of the Midwest further into the dirt it was already caked in.  

In "Migrant Mother," 1936, by Dorothea Lange, the story of Florence Owens Thompson was much like many other American families at this point in time. The iconic photograph that swept the nation by storm gave a nameless face that many in our nation connected with on a very deep level. With her children in tow, a gaunt woman is seen, caught in intense thought. Longing, hopelessness, distress are all intrinsic in this image. Her clothes are tattered, her children are cowering behind her, not in fear of any monster other than hunger pains and fear of starvation.   

"Migrant Mother," Dorothea Lange, 1936.

With this project, I wanted to explore women in Art History, and this image is E V E R Y T H I N G i want to study and find undercurrents for in one place. We have a female artist working in a time where women still were not viewed as equals to their male counterparts. We have the nameless female subject (in this case, FOT asked to remain anonymous to save her children the embarrassment of being poster children for poverty).  And we have them both creating conversations about social struggle in different ways.  

Dorothea Lange left her life as a studio and portrait photographer to join the Farm Security Administration, which enlisted photographers to document the struggles American families were enduring during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. They would use the images in press releases, advertisements and news reports.  Lange came across Thompson in California, asking if she would pose for her, saying that her story could help bring awareness to and subsequently help the poor in the area she was currently working. 

Thompson raised ten children. "I worked in hospitals. I tended bar. I worked in the field, so I done a little bit of everything to make a living for my kids." While working in the fields, she would pick hundreds of pounds of peas a day, while her body weight didn't even pass one hundred herself.  She made no money from her notoriety as "The Migrant Mother." She was the most famous face in America at the time, but still working 16 hour days to just scrape by.  

This is obviously troubling for several reasons, but in an Art History related argument, just imagine all of the famous pieces of art that we look at and are referenced nearly every single day and the stories of their subjects are never known or heard. This woman was living UNDER A BRIDGE while Dorothea Lange was applauded for this photograph.  I am so happy to share the stories of these women, because I feel that we as a human race do not always appreciate many things in life, and one of those is definitely our moms and sisters and cousins and friends and just regular women trying to make it by with their kids.  Cheers to the ladies! 

Self-Portrait as Frida Kahlo in "Self-Portrait with Necklace of Thorns" by Mario Elias

"I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me, too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you." Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was not unlike many of us. She was a loner who always felt like she didn't fit in. I can relate to that one hundred percent. While she stood out from the pack in regards to artistic vision and talent, consistency and conceptual content, she was a reactionary producer of an enormous amount of selfies. Also 100% relatable to this self-conscious queerboi. While she is a female artist painting portraits of herself, I believe she fits into my project in a way that explores even deeper what male-made portraits cannot.  She created portraits of herself in order to better understand how an experience or feeling was affecting her.  Her reactions to her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera... Her realization of the snobbiness of the Art world... Her connection with her ailments... She would cryptically study all of these things using her self-portraiture. 

The self-portrait has long been a means for artists to not only practice their medium sans model, but also a way for the artist to explore the ideas associated with the very broad topic of identity and sense of self.  Kahlo would paint her portraits to occupy her time, she would paint them to get to know herself better, she would paint them to work through troubling times in her life. Most of her life, Kahlo was bedridden. Polio in her youth left one leg thin and frail, so she was never able to be physically active, and a trolley accident in her teens then solidified her sedentary and solitary life.  "I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, I am the person I know best."  She lived most of her life after the accident lying down, and luckily (for her and the rest of the art world) painting was something she could practice in this position.  

Self-Portrait with necklace of thorns and hummingbird, 1940

With "Self-Portrait with necklace of thorns and hummingbird" in 1940, we see Frida at her absolute most quintessential iconographic, insular and stylized self.  This painting was created following her divorce from famous muralist Diego Rivera.  Their relationship was quite the public conversation piece and had many a flaw, but Diego and Frida spent most of their adult lives on-and-off-again with each other. Frida was quite candid with vocalizing her opinions in regards to her male companion.  In this painting, we see Frida almost Christ-like, dressed in all white, with a necklace in place of a crown of thorns. The hummingbird has been said to symbolize hope, with the black cat looming just behind the subject ready to pounce.  

National Geographic's CoverGurl, self-portrait as Sharbat Gula by Mario Elias

"The power to show real women, honest, present, complex and complete. Individuals, radiant in their own right. Not stripped of their personhood, or manipulated for a fantasy or metaphor. I like to think the power of lifting the veil from individuals helps to challenge societies darker fetishes and beliefs, perhaps shatter notions of bigotry and stereotypes." - artist, Victoria Selbach

My grandmother gave me a huge pile of photographs from National Geographic when I was a kid. Each one had a description on the back of the circumstances in which the portraits were taken, as well as information on the actual subjects.  I had two favorites that I kept separate from the rest and placed visible in my room.  

One was a photograph taken of The Little Rock Nine (1957), when integration in the school system was introduced in the US. My grandparents on my Mom's side started dating during the civil rights movement, and being a biracial couple was definitely no easy feat at that point in time. The stories they would tell me of life back then always made me so angry, but the woman's face in that photo was proud and completely unaffected by the hatred around her. That is how I always imagined my grandparents' faces when they told me about their experiences.  I felt so proud that the world as they knew it was able to change, if even just a little bit. 

The second photograph was "Afghan Girl" (1984) by Steve McCurry...

"Afghan Girl," Steve McCurry 1984

The write-up on the back talked generally about the turmoil in Afghanistan at the time and Steve McCurry's contributions to War Photography, but it did not mention what her everyday was like. It didn't say her name or where she came from. She was a refugee in a camp during a time of war. This featured cover for National Geographic is actually the magazine's best selling issue to date.

My dad's father is Syrian, with piercing, icy-green eyes, and this girl reminded me so much of my dad and his father and siblings. I was so upset that this beautiful little girl was not even given the respect of her name being asked. "Afghan Girl." Dassit.

In 2002, McCurry, with the help of National Geographic's resources was able to locate the subject of this now iconic portrait after a lengthy goose chase through the Middle East.  Nearly two decades and all the fame and glory later, they decided they should revisit this story.... I won't be shady, cuz I'm a lady, but they were trying to cash some more checks, babeh. 

This story is the modern day "Girl with the Pearl Earring" in my humble and honest opinion. Its beauty comes from the fragile feminity of the subjects features, yet it's power comes from the strong and intent gaze the subject is surveying the viewer with.  While Sharbat was not recognized as the individual she is, she became a face for the conflict in Afghanistan.  Her face humanized a war torn nation a world away for Americans and many others. THAT'S where the power of this photograph lies. Not with the bravery of the photographer, like the description on the back led a young me to believe. It is the power in one little girl's stare.  Innocence in a time of uncertainty.


 Her name is Sharbat Gula, and she lives in Pakistan with her family. She had only had her photo taken once in her life until McCurry found her again

My eyes haven't seen everything hers have, and they most likely never will, but I am so happy to pay homage to Sharbat Gula with this post.

(Fabrics provided by Britex Fabrics here in San Francisco, backdrop created in Illustrator using the original image for reference, and photography/styling/MUaH all by yours truly as well. Shout out to my beautiful partner Mike for photo assisting!) 

The Ladyboy in Gold, Self Portrait as Adele Bloch-Bauer by Mario Elias

Where many of his paintings pit the subject against the sexual desires and fantasies of the viewer/men, this is a regal, decorative statement, rather than a dream-sequence of desire. Adele is almost surveying the viewer instead of being the object of inappropriate attention.

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Gurl with a Pearl Earring. by Mario Elias

"The first part of the body that a man wants, and which a woman must loyally protect, is the ear; no word or sound should enter it other than the sweet sound of chaste words, which are the oriental pearls of the gospel." St. Francis De Sales

Johannes Vermeer's The Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) is an essential standard for beautiful, delicate portraiture. We all know it. We have all seen it.  Scar Jo tried her best. The subject is often speculated to have been a servant, or a lover (or both) to Vermeer.  Her gaze is bashful and exaggerated. Her posture is meek. She is a picture of beautiful, Dutch realness, the house down. Ultimately, however, she is a nameless, pretty face that we do not know much about. Too real IMO... Am I right, ladies? 

Art is and has always been a vehicle for passion. Throughout nearly the entire expanse of Art History, the image of the Woman has been used to incite feelings of desire, to personify fertility and, oftentimes, to subjugate or objectify. The Venus of Willendorf (Austria, 28-25,000BCE) started the trend nearly 30,000 years ago, and it continues with any pop starlet on the cover of whatever magazine you kids are digitally inclined to indulge in these days. 

Venus of Willendorf, left. Reality TV Character, right.

Vermeer obviously did not paint with any malicious intent in this piece; she's beauty, she's grace, she's housed permanently in The Hague. While this Art History 101 classic is aesthetically and technically masterful, the story behind it is also a feminist rabbit hole; her disposition and absence of noted identity do speak volumes to the way women have been viewed historically, and it definitely deserved some exploration.  

Surprisingly enough, The Girl in question is most likely Vermeer's daughter, Maria, who also is possibly the model for several other paintings in his portfolio.  This, at least, takes away any sexualizing of the subject for us, praise the lord almighty.  By putting her in this portrait with the pearl earrings, Vermeer is most likely creating an allegory for decency and chastity. #ParentingWin. However, this story is not over! Maria was also a painter, most likely trained by Vermeer in secret, and it has been speculated that she was actually the creator of 20% of Vermeer's works! THE NERVE. "Girl with a Red Hat" is one notable example, where you can see it is most likely a self portrait by her posture and penetrating, intent stare.  

While this seems to be a case of plagiarism by Vermeer, the truth is unknown. It is definitely a possibility that Vermeer's family sold the paintings under this guise after his death to repay some debts. It is also likely that historians miscredited the works that seem like Vermeer misfits.  The complete story will most likely never come to light; unless Ol JoJo Vermeezy kept a cute diary, the world will never know.

Art has been dominated by men. Men making art for men to view. This is essentially what the "male gaze" is.   With this project, every week I will recreate women depicted throughout Art History in a series of self-portraits, giving background to the pieces and their relevance.  By doing so, I hope to not only revisit the original ideas and subjects behind these pieces, but also try to queer the male gaze, as it were. I will be a gay man of color, remaking art made for straight men.

Behold my Oriental Pearls of the Gospel, HENNY!!!!

NintendoCore Nancy / Kawaii Fantasy by Mario Elias

Hoodrats and babygurlz,

Last week's shoot is ready for mass consumption! I present to you "NintendoCore Nancy the Kawaii Fantasy" featuring Thomas! 

This collaboration was EXTREMELY fun to shoot. We used repurposed LEDs as the only light source, sprinkles throughout, and a selection of MAC products for this makeuplewk.  

FEEDBACK, PLZ. kaythanks.

when in the night by Mario Elias

Hey, hood rats!

I have been doing at least one personal photo shoot a week in addition to my normal workload to keep myself on my prancing kween toes; here is this week's submission!

"when in the night" is a take on greek goddess, Artemis, as a modern day punk queen.  

My model extraordinaire here is Nicki Newman, with hair and Make-up by yours truly.

Feedback is always welcome!!! =]

Hey there, Lover Bot. by Mario Elias

This week's photo spread that I am serving up for the kids features hair, makeup, lighting and photography, all by yours truly. 

This look is inspired by Jude Law's character in the film Artificial Intelligence (2001). He played a prostitute Robot named Joe.... so.... yeah.... LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK! Any questions on how I shot this or what products I used to create the look, shoot me a message!

I also want to give a quick shout-out to a one Miss Stella Nichols, for providing me with an arsenal of MAC products to use for this shoot. She is an extremely talented artist as well as a genius reporter. Get into her gig on instagram @stelladimes.

Some Big News! by Mario Elias

In recent weeks, my life has been on quite the rollercoaster-whirlwind-death-drop-up-in-the-air-slip-sliding-down-a-rabbit-hole kind of tip. I am sorry for being a little quiet or slow to respond. Stress doesn't do me well. Haha

BUT, all emotional and personal life skruggles aside. Professionally, I have some big news!!! With three HUGE photography jobs coming up this month, I am extremely excited to say that I am finally kicking up some gravel and starting this journey, camera in hand. (Nikon, duh.) 

Stay tuned for some upcoming projects, including some fashion and editorial spreads that I will be shooting for the style and news outlet, I am handling the Winter Style Guide/Gift Guide, and I cannot be more excited. SHOOTING STARTS TOMORROW. (I need some serious positive energy thrown at me, guys. SO NERVOUS.)

And for my final little nugget of news... This awkward little ball of Cuban energy was recently approached by JE Model SF while bartending...  Below you will find my very first shoot in front of the lens! Photography by Roberto Gaxiola, styling by Haley Burgstahler. 

I'm not sure where this path will lead me, but I am extremely excited to give it a shot! I cannot wait to keep you all updated on everything.