Juno Calypso is a London-based photographer with a penchant for self-portraiture. Calypso’s photographs, all at once bizarre and deeply engaging, are a far cry from today’s mundane “selfie,” however. Rather, the artist is able to personify a woman deeply entangled in the constructs of contemporary feminine beauty – Joyce – a character that has evolved during Calypso’s foray into self-portraiture.
Through Joyce, Calypso is able to depict an identifiable character – a woman worn down by the confines of modern feminine ideals – as well as examine and deconstruct what makes those beautification pressures so detrimental to women on a broader level. The images are somewhat dreamlike, dark, and intriguing; Calypso is masterful at creating scenes that draw in an audience while still inspiring a muted unease.
We recently asked Calypso a handful of questions about Joyce, feminism, and using self-portraiture as an artistic medium. Read on for her responses:
Cultivating Culture: Your self-portrait projects are incredibly unique and almost eerie. There are hues of pink, which is not to be confused with a lightness, for they are all very morose and foreboding, particularly in “Joyce II.” What inspired your set design?
Juno Calypso: Thank you, yes the surroundings have really become the focus. I started this project in a studio with a desk and a grey backdrop. Then I crammed a makeshift film set into a room at my mum’s house for ‘Popcorn Venus’. It was only during a trip to my friend’s parents’ house one weekend – I walked in and all the rooms were perfectly preserved with 1970s decor. That’s when it became obvious that locations were right under my nose. Since then all my work has been taken inside my grandma’s house. Or rooms I find online, which end up belonging to elderly single women. That was the point when the houses began to influence what I was doing inside them. I’d say my favorite is still the room I used to make ’12 Reason’s You’re Tired All The Time’. It was pink and terrifying to sleep in.
CC: Can you tell me a little more about Joyce? Your website says that she is a character that evolved from your work in self-portraiture. Was this an organic creation, or something you’ve been imagining for a while?
JC: Taking pictures of myself has always been something I’ve done in private. My work as a photographer however was usually about taking pictures of other women who I thought were beautiful, and making them look hyper-beautiful. I would use myself to test out the shot first, but pull funny faces to make it less awkward. Then when I presented these test pictures to my new class at university a few years ago I saw them laugh and that was it. Laughter became more important that trying to shock them with sex or beauty.
Back at home I went through my all my old CDs and hard drives, and found all these private pouting photographs I’d taking of myself ranging from age 9 to 19. I realised that this new character – who became ‘Joyce’ – was a caricature of the way I used to present myself in front of the camera.
CC: Will you continue to utilize Joyce and self-portraiture in the future? Do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to discuss?
JC: I’m working on a new project at the moment, which is a continuation of Joyce, but with an emphasis on beauty products and contraptions that border on science fiction. Alongside that I’ve begun collaborating with others by art directing for short films and music videos. I think I’ll always go back to self-portraiture though since I’m always there.
CC: What drew you to photography as an art medium, and more specifically, what do you enjoy the most about self-portraiture?
JC: Self-portraiture works for me because I can spend 9 hours trying to get the angle of my face to look right and no one complains. There isn’t a team waiting behind me wondering when they’re going home. I can get into character. Which just means being by myself for so long that I’m so bored of my own company that the work becomes interesting. I look tired, I feel weird, my costume is itching, I’m alone with my boring thoughts. I’ve been taking the same picture of myself for the last 5 hours. I have Vaseline on my face. What am I doing? Who am I? And then I lie on the floor for a bit, try and cry, get up, change the camera angle change the wig take the picture and it finally works. I’m not sure if I could get away with that with someone else in the room.
CC: I think that some people might look at your works and pick up on feminist or gender-challenging overtones. Do you identify as a feminist? Does your understanding of your own femininity and socially-defined femininity play into your work?
JC: Completely one hundred percent a feminist. There’s no question. I also identify as a photographer and I want to make beautiful images. When it comes to the content of the work, it’s fantasy meets autobiography. So as a 24-year-old woman, these are the subjects that I feel drawn closest to and want to talk about.
You can see more of Juno Calypso’s photography and other projects by visiting her website.
*All images used with permission from the artist.