Making spikes out of lemons:

Hiding behind a shield of armor, New York based photographer and filmmaker Katrina del Mar has a lot to unveil. She flaunts toughness like a skin of comfort, an urban necessity and an outfit of survival, and her subjects, including vixens who breed pit bulls and transgender males, seem to share the same stylist.

For these individuals, tattoos, pit bulls, cigarettes, rock n’ roll, and sex n’ alcohol are the contemporary armor that shield their lives from a storm of conformity. Her newest exhibit of photographs is currently on display at the Light Box. Entitled Ruff Trade – the American Toughie, it explores the iconography of a mythical lifestyle and flirts with the sensitivity underneath all the snarls, leather and bondage.

“These people are my friends. They might have had set- backs in their youth. And they chose to adapt without conforming, so they develop into extremes,” says del Mar over the phone.

Del Mar’s artwork focuses sharply on disadvantaged individuals who need help but choose not to waft around in handout lines waiting for it. Instead, they stylishly incorporate forms of daily starvation into their lives, essentially making spikes out of lemons. Often associated with biker gangs, Goth and death metal, it’s a confrontational way-of-being that society often looks down upon, all the while stealing the traits and styles it finds more attractive and safe.

A self proclaimed “realist photographer,” del Mar prefers to do shoots with people who are real, “somebody you see all the time. They are real people doing their own thing.” Stereotypes are stitched deep into the heart of rebellion, so del Mar likes to mix avant-garde shock with emotion. Her work thrives on contradiction – like a woman who rescues abandoned pit bulls and nurses them back to health or a colorful diva who lives and breathes motocross.

“I call it ‘amplified realism,’ and the toughness theme goes along with that. The show is about bridging the gap between the oppressed image and the theme behind it. It’s like a child grown with sensitivity, like flowers. It’s about whether the image frees them and it becomes about what’s behind the armor- the hidden sensitivity,” del Mar explains.

“Nic + Connie” features two female bikers who emit sensuality and seductiveness, yet embrace the aggressive attributes of Mad Max. The red and black photograph is almost colorless and blurred – dazed yet surreal – and makes for a stunning image of freedom and individuality. It whispers, “Come here baby,” and screams “Back the *#&@ off,” simultaneously.

The female body is a prominent image in del Mar’s photography, and she loves displaying it in all sorts of contexts. In “Kate,” a subject’s breasts are revealed underneath a denim vest. Signature ruggedness is retained with a pit bull, a lit cigarette, and a backdrop of tenement apartments.

The exhibit makes use of salvaged trash – old doors and windows that are worn with cracks and chipped white paint – by using it for frames. Walking into the exhibit, there are wonderful, hovering windowpanes to set the thrift-gone-dangerous mood.

“Among the frames is a construction brigade with the words ‘Film Trash,’ and a salvaged projector that was torn out of an old hotel. Everything fits the theme of “tough” – it makes use of whatever you can find as an outsider with no help from government,” del Mar says passionately. “People who come up not feeling safe, emotionally or physically, in violent times take what ever they can find and grab so they can survive.”

Ranting in a slow, almost demented tone, she confesses, “I don’t like the idea of being devoured and easy. I’m like the toughness of the texture of the steak – serrated with a knife. When ready to go, I go. Just do it yourself. Make it happen. Don’t wait for anyone. When I get bored I do something. Instead of getting stoned, I make a film.”

For fans of gritty DIY art, del Mar is as “guerilla fab” as it gets.

Rough Trade will be running until May 5th at the Light Box, located on 3000 Biscayne Blvd. Admission is free. For further show info, call 305.576.4350.

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Jeanette Hallak can be reached at