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Juno Calypso's Eerie Honeymoon Portraits Capture The Darker Side Of Womanhood
4 Oct 2016 10:09 AM
“I’ve always liked to work with things that people sneer at," 27-year-old artist Juno Calypso says, when trying to define the inspiration behind her photographs. “Anything that people considered tacky, low-brow, or that makes people say ‘women are so stupid for liking this’ – that’s exactly the stuff I want more of.”
It’s been one year since London-born Calypso set off on her first solo journey to a couples-only love hotel in rural Pennsylvania to create images for her series The Honeymoon. Posing as an aspiring travel writer, Calypso gained access to different suites in the resort and once inside, she spent the week dressing up in wigs and wedding lingerie and taking self-portraits. Slathering herself in green clay, adorning her face with anti-ageing contraptions and draping herself across heart-shaped bathtubs surrounded by mirrors, Calypso performed scenes of preparation and anticipation, acting out familiar rituals of beauty and seduction to an absurd degree.
In these images, Calypso created a fictional character named Joyce. With a wry wit, Calypso offered Joyce as a woman disenchanted by the “laboured construct of femininity”, mechanically testing out beauty treatments and body improvement devices, and consumed by the perpetual pursuit of perfection. Joyce was often seen gazing, seemingly exhausted, into the camera or at her own reflection. Calypso amassed a substantial cult following for this ongoing series of pastel pink-hued images.
In more recent images, the character that she portrays has an air of defiance, and now appears to be revelling in the construction of femininity where once she was weighed down. “I realised that I want people to laugh along with the character, like she’s in on the joke”, she explains. “Yes, the rituals we invest in as women can be bizarre, but that’s not really the problem. The real problem is the way women are considered moronic for wanting to indulge in those things. Stop patronising us. We know what we’re doing.”
Calypso has decided that she doesn’t necessarily want people to see Joyce when they look at her photographs anymore, but rather a more abstract figure. Armed with this sentiment, she has just returned from a second trip to Pennsylvania where she stayed at a new honeymoon resort. This time, she explains, it was much less about the ego of a character and much more about the way the body appears in relation to its surroundings. The promise of rooms designed only for gazing at one another, covered in mirrors and bathed in blue and pink light, is what drew her back. Everything else was improvisation.
Here, she invites Refinery29 to take the first look at her new work.
“Last year, when people asked what was next for me, I threatened that I’d go on a one-woman tour of honeymoon hotels around the world. Turns out there was something in that because recently I felt pulled back to the area of Pennsylvania I had visited the first time round. I knew that the hotel I stayed in had another branch a few hours away and so off I went. I wasn’t done with these places. This time I only packed cheap wedding lingerie, wigs and some electronic beauty masks. I tried to keep it minimal. It was all about the rooms this time. When I arrived it was the same thing all over again: nobody questioned the amount of excess baggage or the fact that I didn’t leave my room for three days straight. I was left to my own devices.”
“There was this one room with an indoor pool that really made me want to go there. Everything I loved about the pink honeymoon suite from my original trip was replicated in blue, but with even more mezzanines and glass ceilings. Being in the pool, bathed in low, blue light felt hallucinatory, and in some ways, sad – the perfect stage for my pictures. You could just tell that every room in the resort had been dreamed up in the head of one guy. There were no windows, just mirrors everywhere. Every part of the room was designed solely for looking at your lover, or at yourself.”
“I don’t have a studio, I always work on location – I like to search out private spaces that are made for indulging in fantasy and seduction. I began taking pictures in bedrooms and bathrooms, but as my work has grown, what better place than the honeymoon suite, where the archetypal rituals of the wedding night take place? My process is a bit like making a low-budget film, except it’s a one-person operation. Sometimes I’m the tyrannical director who wont let anybody stop working, and sometimes I’m the wayward actor who won’t get out of bed.”
“All of my work essentially boils down to two things: desire and disappointment. And I like to find humour in the path from one to the other. There’s a certain level of irony in all of my images. An important lesson I’ve learnt along the way is that humour is a powerful tool for women.
"The honeymoon hotel is a space charged with anticipation, and desire. I like to put my character through the rituals that would otherwise play out in these spaces with two people – the preparation, and then watch as disappointment unfolds. Solitude and loneliness are big themes. I’ll only ever appear alone."
“We’ve always been inclined to ‘dress up’ haven’t we? Since being little. I still like to do that, lots of us do. As RuPaul said, ‘you’re born naked, and the rest is drag’. I’ve always said that I use my work to explore the private underlife of a woman consumed by the laboured construct of femininity. And I do this because it’s a theme that I can relate to very well. It’s half autobiography and half nonsensical fantasy. Because of the kind of work I make, I always get male critics asking, ‘but can you really call yourself a feminist when you pose like that?’ Of course the answer is yes. It’s like there are certain conditions that you need to check off in order to prove you are one of the ‘good feminists’. I hate it when the privileged tell the oppressed how to protest."
“My generation came of age at the same time as digital photography, the internet and the selfie. It was an awkward time to be alive. There are a lot of female photographers publishing self-portraits alongside their photographs of female friends and models, which I think is wonderful. I just feel separated from that world because I exclusively photograph myself. It can feel very limiting at times, but morally, I feel very comfortable. I’m too neurotic to take on the responsibility of photographing someone else. The only person I’m exploiting is myself.”
"I’m too nervous to watch horror films and I’ve never gone deep into sci-fi, but I love the aesthetic of both so I skip and pause and try to absorb what I can. It’s funny these days that you can be a film expert without having watched anything. All you need is YouTube and Google Image search. The other day this guy said to me 'I like your work. It really reminds me of David Lynch'. I thanked him and told him that I’d only ever seen Blue Velvet. When I asked what he would recommend he told me, 'I don’t know, I’ve never actually seen anything he's done.'
"My favourite films are psychological horrors with a clean aesthetic like The Skin I Live In, Space Odyssey and Beyond The Black Rainbow. I reckon The Fifth Element also had a huge influence on me when I was younger. I thought a lot about that white bandage outfit Milla Jovovich wore when I was choosing costumes for these new images."
“If I’m in need of inspiration for new images, I’ll go on eBay. My key search words are ‘sexy’ and ‘pink’ and ‘mask’. I’ll start in the hair and beauty section and then move onto electronics, followed by a long browse in the wedding department. There are so many more trips I want to take. My location wish list is so long now that I’ve been considering setting up a fake online holiday agency called Joyce’s Choices.
"All of my best photographs are born from my worst ideas. If I try to be too serious the work becomes dull. When I’m setting up a photograph I’m usually thinking, ‘this is so bad’, but in the words of John Waters: 'Have faith in your own bad taste.' Show your dedication to the cause, whatever that may be. Yes, I find my own work tacky to look at, at times but I like that. I listen to Céline Dion, I watch reality TV, I have notifications on my phone reminding me to watch make-up videos on YouTube and all of that feeds into what I’m doing. There are no guilty pleasures.