Tag Archives: Women of Substance

Patricia Schwarz and Laura Aguilar: Farewell to Pioneers


Laurie and Debbie say:

We learned recently that Patricia Schwarz died last December. This was intended to be a blog about her and her work, but we couldn’t write about Patricia without mentioning Laura Aguilar … and then we found out that Laura Aguilar died today. So it is with great sadness that we remember both of these groundbreaking photographers of fat nudes.

Laura Aguilar achieved serious recognition in her lifetime.

Laura Aguilar, In Sandy’s Room, self-portrait

Maximilano Durón, writing an obituary piece about her in ArtNews, says:

Aguilar’s powerful, quietly beautiful photographs explored the lived realities of members of various marginalized groups, including women, lesbians, Latinas, the working class, overweight people, and those with learning disabilities. Long under-recognized by mainstream institutions, her work had a sudden resurgence in popularity last year thanks to her traveling retrospective and the inclusion of her work in several group exhibitions across the PST program, including “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.,” which debuted at the MOCA Pacific Design Center and ONE Gallery and is currently traveling.

Aguilar would have self-identified with all the marginalized groups Durón lists above, and got her start as a photographer in the Lesbian community. (We note that Durón does not have the political awareness to say, as Aguilar and Schwarz would have, “fat” instead of “overweight.”) Aguilar photographed fat people, clothed and nude, from the very beginning of her photography career in the 1980s. We especially appreciate her focus on Chicano women of all sizes.

Unlike Aguilar, Patricia Schwarz and her work have almost disappeared, and it is a great loss.

This photograph of the German edition of her book is the only usable picture we could find (while with Aguilar, we have dozens to choose from). Schwarz, who belonged to the fat liberation community in the 1980s, specialized in full-color photography of fat women, nude and clothed. Women of Substance was published (in English) in Japan, in conjunction with the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Art exhibit of her work in Hokuto, Japan. Copies of the book are hard to find, and cost well over $100. She never got much recognition in the U.S. art world.

Both Aguilar’s and Schwarz’ work were known in the women’s community in the 1980s, but Laurie hadn’t come across either one when she conceived Women En Large. The sheer range of the work of the three photographers is fascinating. Aguilar worked in color and black-and-white, and chronicled many of the marginalized groups with which she identified. Schwarz worked completely in color, and only photographed fat women. Her photographs were frequently stylized and sometimes used costumes. Laurie, whose work at the beginning consisted entirely of fat female nudes, took the path of environmental photography: women in their own homes or spaces they chose, in positions they found comfortable and expressed who they were.

Aguilar and Schwarz will be greatly missed. Schwarz deserves much more attention and availability than she has received so far–if anyone knows of a source for more images of her photographs, please send it to us. And the ongoing takeaway from the photography they both left behind, and Laurie’s fat nude photography, is that the subject of fat nudes is abundant, and nowhere near exhausted. Although several fine photographers have continued the work of these pioneers, there are still only two books of fat nudes readily available: Women En Large and Leonard Nimoy’s The Full Body Project. It’s time for more.