This selection of pictures was made between 1993 and 2019. Early on, in black and white and the pastel hues of chrome, I shot simply what I saw: a few cars circling the nearly empty streets, people waiting in line for bread, my own family preparing dinner, and soldiers surveying the land I would eventually explore end to end.
Over the last twenty-nine years, as Albania has slowly transitioned from the poorest, most repressed country in Europe to a vibrant, determined democracy, my work has changed as well.Transitioning from the representational to the conceptual, images now incorporate mixed media and woven Jacquard tapestries. In an attempt to weave the biological with the socio-political, the tapestries were created from high resolution photographs made in the Accursed Mountain region in the north of Albania.
Recently, I was granted unique access to Enver Hoxha’s house (shuttered and nearly exactly as he left it in 1985), and the former headquarters of the Sigurimi, the secret police. I consider these permissions an optimistic milestone for a country that has, until recently, resisted self-examination and reckoning of its brutal history.
To be good you must commit and Elena Dorfman embodies this ideology. Her work on Albania comes from a place of personal history, dedication and adaptation, all aspects and traits we hold dear. Covering a continually shifting story for decades at a time takes perseverance and patience beyond what most can comprehend, and it takes the ability to transition as an artist.Elena’s range of work and her ability to relay her visual, historical findings to a wide range of audience is remarkable.
Elena Dorfman is a Los Angeles-based visual artist working in photography, video, and tapestry. Throughout her career, she has explored marginalized communities and neglected landscapes through process and materiality. Prior to her landscape work, Dorfman was known for her intensive portrait series that combined beauty with atypical subject matter. Identity—sexual, social, cultural and environmental—is a root element of her work.
Her artistic practice which includes recording—through photography and film—the complexity of physical settings by layering dozens, sometimes hundreds, of images, both original and archival, with maps, texts and other ephemera gathered over the course of years. Through this process, she blends nature and artifice, depicting evidence of past actions, uses, and habitation. Her work has endeavored to record the laborious excavation of events—both natural and human—over time. Recently, in an effort to weave the biographical with the socio-political, she created large scale Jacquard tapestries from high resolution photographs of Albania’s Accursed Mountain region.
Continuing her multi-layered approach, Dorfman‘s “Sublime: The L.A. River”, 2015, is a series of conceptual landscape images made along the Los Angeles River, home to early settlers of the western metropolis. Encased in concrete in 1938 to tame the devastating floods of the early 20th century, the river has since largely been ignored. Dorfman’s photographs are elaborate constructs that rely on a series of intentional aesthetic decisions, loosely referencing the allegorical narratives of the paintings by the Hudson River School.
“Empire Falling”, Dorfman’s 2013 critically acclaimed monograph marked her expansion from portraiture to conceptual landscape photography. This series explores abandoned and active rock quarries throughout the American Midwest. Here, Dorfman utilizes her unique process of assembling hundreds of images made over the course of years and numerous locations into cohesive vistas that present a novel and contemporary view of an evolving landscape. “The Pleasure Park”, 2009, is a comprehensive look at the world of thoroughbred horse racing. The focus of this series is a 5-minute panoramic film that both reconstructs a horse race and explores the milieu of the track and racing as an industry. The 3-channel video installation places the spectator directly in the racing environment, creating an overwhelming sensation of the beauty of the physical form and sheer force of man and animal. As companion pieces, Dorfman produced a 1-hour video that gazes quietly at jockeys, revealing both their power and vulnerability: and portraits of racehorses in a studio setting complete the series.
In her 2007 series, “Fandomania: Characters & Cosplay”, Dorfman explores the world of Costume Play–a pop-cultural phenomenon exported from Japan. The subjects in this series are extreme fans who frequent conventions worldwide, and who dress up and live as characters from video games, Japanese manga, and anime.
“Still Lovers”, a series of photographs that brought Dorfman international acclaim, focuses on the domestic lives of men and women who devote themselves to life-size, anatomically correct sex dolls. The artist’s intent was not to exploit the deviancy of those who had relationships with artificial sexual surrogates, but rather to reveal the fascinating secret world of intimacy between flesh and silicone. In 2019, the Fondazione Prada exhibited this series in a two-person show entitled, Surrogati: Un Amore Ideale (Surrogate: A Love Ideal). Twenty years after this work was first created, interest in the representation and ubiquity of replacement human beings has only increased.
In 2013 and 2014, Dorfman was invited by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to photograph Syrians fleeing war in an attempt to help shed light on the crisis. Dorfman’s impactful series, “Syria’s Lost Generation” reveals through pictures and recorded first-person narratives the plight of fourteen young adult refugees. This series has been exhibited at numerous colleges and universities. A multimedia installation comprised from Dorfman’s images and recordings is on permanent display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's Center for Genocide.
A finalist for the BMW Prize, Paris Photo, Elena Dorfman’s photographs and video installations have been exhibited in both the U.S. and worldwide at venues, including the Fondazione Prada, Milan; Palazzo Strozzi, Florence; the Triennale di Milano, Milan; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her work is held in numerous collections including the Denver Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, Palm Springs Art Museum, Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University, and Bass Art Museum. Her work is the subject of three monographs, “Empire Falling” (Damiani, 2013), “Fandomania: Characters & Cosplay” (Aperture, 2007), “Still Lovers” (Channel, 2005).
Dorfman lectures regularly at museums and universities. In the fall of 2020 she will teach a Masterclass for the Zavattini Prize students of the Scuola D’Arte Cinematografica, Rome. Her work has been included in several symposia, including, In the Uncanny Valley: Encounters in Arts, Media and Continental Philosophy (University for the Arts, Zurich, Switzerland) and Refugees Endure: WWII Displaced Persons versus Today and the Lessons Learned Conference (Tulane School of Law, New Orleans, LA). Dorfman’s work from “Still Lovers” was the focus of several documentary films and the inspiration for the feature film, “Lars and the Real Girl”.