Project

Hello Kitty: Street Cosplayers in Joana Toro’s Project

Joana Toro moved to NYC to study English, but became a street animator and in the Hello Kitty costume created a project about life of the immigrants

Joana Toro, 38 years old

From Bogota, Columbia. Lives in New York. Does documentary photography. Works in partnership with Redux Pictures and Getty Images. Favorite books: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “100 Years of Solitude” and Ryszard Kapuściński’s “Shah of Shahs”.

Idea

The idea came to me when I was taking pictures of my roommate in Times Square, – she was a participant in a dance performance called “The Latine Side of Obama”. So I had the opportunity to get to know the culture of street shows and to emotionally connect with the performers. Perhaps because they, too, were immigrants who, like myself, came to the States from the countries of Latin America.

The Statue of Liberty impersonator in NYC was having problems with the police. How ironic! The photo of the “Statue of Liberty” and the policeman was the first one in my project. That was when I decided to join the street animators.

I understood that the “I Am Hello Kitty” project will be full of irony before I even started it. More and more questions came up along the way. Initially, it was about the concept of immigration and cultural assimilation, and eventually it turned into a personal journal of attempts to define yourself within the frame of new status, and to show what it means to be an immigrant in the globalized world.


{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_15.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 1”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_01.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 2”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_08.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 3”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_05.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 4”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_03.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 5”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_09.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 6”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_02.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 7”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_10.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 8”
}

Work of a street performer

Wearing the costume, I felt as if I were an astronaut in her uniform on a planet full of strange creatures. My vision was reduced to two small dark holes, my neck ached because of the heavy mask, my shoes were enormous and difficult to walk in. On day one, it was impossible not to feel embarrassed of my outfit, but with time I started to feel more comfortable being someone else.

This experience was interesting from the aspect of people watching – I enjoyed interacting with with smily kids and their nice parents. Children always tried to hug me! A 5-year-old girl said to me one time: “Dear Hello Kitty, I give you all my money” – then she took out a $100 toy bill out of her tiny purse and graciously handed it to me with. I received gifts like that all the time!

I got to know kids like Billy, a 16-year-old autistic teen who visited Times Square daily for two years in a row so he could hug certain characters. I always received a hug from him, regardless of the costume I was wearing that day. He always gave me a kiss and sometimes a gift. Things like that made my job easy. On the other hand, it was difficult to spend 6+ hours standing on the street, with no guarantees of being paid. I also encountered some rude behavior – several people tried to push me, scream at me, even hit me. I felt very vulnerable at times.


{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_06.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 9”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_07.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 10”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_13.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 11”
},{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_11.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 12”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_12.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 13”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/toro_14.jpg”,
“alt”: “I am Hello Kitty 14”
}

NYC and photography

Entertainment industry, as well as media-industry, has been selling “the American Dream” for a long time now – and that’s exactly what prompts people to want to move to the US. New York City is a particularly enticing place – being a melting pot of different cultures which manage to coexist side by side. The idea of succeeding in USA, regardless of who you are and where you come from, often turns from a dream into a nightmare for those who think it’s all about money or accumulation of material possessions. My American Dream is about something else. It’s about discovering yourself in new ways.

Good photography to me is not just appropriate lighting or beautiful composition. There has to be a story behind it that makes you pause and think. In my photos, I try to project respect to those who took part in it. It may cause all sorts of feelings which should not be taken into consideration, as everyone forms their own opinion about it. If you want to be a photographer you better get ready to be alone.

New and best

116

578

361
385

Read more