Odella (born 1930)

Odella Chatel was known as an eccentric character living in Boston’s South End in the 1970s and 80s. She referred to herself during this time as a “high survivor.” Born in 1930, Odella (who prefers to be addressed by her first name) was abused and neglected as a child. Beginning at age nine, she spent the next thirty years in institutions. Photographer Carlota Duarte first met Odella in 1974 when she moved to the South End to join other members of her Catholic religious order. As a way of introducing herself, Duarte began to photograph her neighbors. Odella asked to be photographed. When Duarte arrived at Odella’s apartment for the photo session, she was greeted by Odella, ready with props and costumes. What evolved over the next two years was a moving photographic study of Odella posing as she wished to be seen – movie star, gun moll, sex symbol. Duarte encouraged Odella to create her own works of art and supplied her with brushes, paints and paper. Between 1988 and 1990 Odella produced over three hundred paintings about herself, her family, her fantasies and dreams. Her self-portraits communicate with honesty and lack of inhibition. Together, the photographs and paintings demonstrate the intimacy and trust between the two artists and reveal Odella’s inner strength, pride, and hopefulness. Odella currently resides in New Mexico.

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