Alan Campbell, Richmond News
Published February 6, 2018
Few people would open up their doors to strangers, let alone invite them into their homes.
You would think, then, it’d be safe to assume the number of people willing to show said stranger into their bedrooms and proceed to be photographed in the raw, would be on the low side.
Not so, according to Richmond photographer Wendel Genosa, who said there wasn’t enough time in the day to sift through all the young adults who replied to her solicitation on Craigslist under the aforementioned circumstances.
To be clear, Genosa, 24, doesn’t harbour a deep-seated desire to nose around the boudoirs of random folk sourced from the Internet out of mere curiosity.
In fact, the Burnett secondary grad convinced people to let down their guard in the most private of spaces to help with her documentary-style project in her final year studying photography at Emily Carr University a few years ago.
And there is some method to the relative madness which contributed to her award-winning, photographic portfolio entitled “Bedroom Biographies.”
“I was pretty timid and shy and I thought this was a chance to get to know people and step out of my comfort zone,” said Genosa, who’s just started working on Bedroom Biographies 2.0, which will likely include international strangers, again in their bedrooms.
“To start with, I just shot people I knew. But I was also interested in documenting spaces and particularly people in their spaces. The idea of somebody in their domestic space being photographed is a lot different than someone being shot in a public place.
“I posted ads on Craigslist in my fourth year, so I had some total strangers that I photographed. Yes, I was a little apprehensive, but I like to think I have pretty good judgement and I would take a friend along with me.
“I got quite a lot of responses, mostly from 18-year-olds to 27-year-olds and lots of university students and some friends of friends.
“But there were some randoms in there; those were the most interesting.”
The people that agreed to “expose” themselves, so to speak, were “in a very vulnerable position,” added Genosa.
“This was their own personal space and I was trying to capture some of that vulnerability; trying to keep it as honest and raw as possible.
“Every time I was going to shoot someone new, they would say ‘hold on, I’ve got to clean my room first’ and I was like ‘please don’t, I want as honest a depiction of your space as possible.’
“I deliberately didn’t give them too much notice for that reason. To be honest, I was fascinated that people allowed me into their personal spaces and photographed them in it.”
Not surprisingly, Genosa – who also works full-time at the Richmond Society for Community Living, helping teenagers with developmental and physical disabilities - seen a few sights during her five-month journey through the bedrooms of strangers.
“A lot of it I didn’t really see until afterwards,” she said.
“One student, whose room was very bare, had the word ‘Cheek-d’ on his T-shirt. I Googled it later and it was a dating app.
“I wondered if he knew what that meant and was ‘advertising’ himself or did he just pick the T-shirt up somewhere?
“There is definitely a little mystery, the bedroom is very private. You don’t see that when you go to someone’s house, normally. This is a secret and sacred space and I really wanted to reflect who that person is.”
Another participant was an Emily Carr classmate who was very quiet and had barely spoken to Genosa in the first three years of the course.
“She reached out to me about the project and said she wanted to be a part of it,” explained Genosa.
“It turned out she had a huge collection of My Little Pony and Pokemon in her bedroom, there was colour everywhere.
“I wanted some natural light in there, but the blinds were closed because the collection was light sensitive. I had to use artificial light.”
Aside from being intrigued by what went on “behind closed doors” of relative strangers, Genosa was fascinated by the living situations of her friends and colleagues, most of them acutely affected by Metro Vancouver’s housing market.
“With the challenges young adults face in a housing market such as Vancouver, my closest friends found themselves living in unique spaces; from closets and shared living rooms, to dorm rooms and parent's basements,” said Genosa, who lives at home in Richmond with her mom and younger sister.
“One of my friends was paying rent for a closet, she’s in the project, and I know lots of people living in dens with a mattress.
“Everyone's circumstance was unique…with our bedrooms acting as an extension of our personalities and our belongings representing sentiment and character.”
According to the foreword for Bedroom Biographies, Wendel said the young people she profiled were “in that awkward stage between adolescence and adulthood, between the family home and the outside world.”
As for 2.0, Genosa said she has soft plans to travel to Japan and the Philippines this year and has a dream to extend her bedroom lens internationally.
“I have some friends over there, so it could be friends of friends again that I shoot?” she said.
“I want to do Bedroom Biographies on a bigger scale, but within the same age range.
“You never know what to expect, that’s the magic of it.”
She’s already started shooting locally for the new project and intend to take the whole year to put it together and, hopefully, have both biographies exhibited at some point.
She has no plans, however, to enlist the help of a Japanese or Filipino Craigslist this time around.
“Social media groups are a strong source of communication; that will be enough for now.”