Selfies tend to split the room. For some they're harmless fun and democratic self-expression. For others, selfies embody the narcissism of a whole generation. For photographer Juno Calypso, taking pictures of herself became a key part of her career.
Like me, Juno started to take photos of herself with her dad’s hobby camera from a very young age — at first as a kid, later as a teenager. She always thought she’d become a fashion photographer, but her projects featuring herself have now won several prestigious prizes (like the British Journal Photography Series Award) and an extended take on her Honeymoon series will be on show at the Unseen Photography Fair in September.
Juno’s self-portraits move way beyond the regular selfie into a mystical world that revolves around one woman, Joyce. In her first series, Juno portrays herself as a receptionist, an airline worker and a masseuse, complete with stereotypical costumes and desk decorations.
Although Juno never had a particular story in mind for Joyce, the images do showcase a particular character. “I wanted them to wear outfits you’d usually find in sexy Valentine and Halloween shops — so there’s the stewardess and the receptionist, all those outfits that have been really eroticised and sexualised in a very cheesy way.”
While her starting point is playful, Juno admits her final pictures do take on a more political dimension. “These are just things that I love – I love getting dressed up, I love making myself look appealing, looking nice or looking seductive,. But I think it is also very important to critique these things and to pick them apart. Why are we doing this? Who makes us do this and do we have ownership of it?”
Even though she planned on shooting with models at first, in the end she decided to use herself instead. “I think that made it even funnier, because I’m not a model and I can do a bored face pretty well. It is just my natural face, there’s no acting required,” she laughs.
Juno thinks the selfie isn’t a new thing as people have been depicting themselves for centuries, but new technology has certainly made it more widespread.
The appeal, she thinks, is that you can see yourself in a different way. “Sometimes when you look in the mirror, you are like: ‘Is that really me?’ But when you take a picture of yourself there’s this new angle. You have frozen yourself in time and you think: ‘Is that how other people see me? Is that what I really look like?’
“I don’t think it’s just narcissistic. I think it can be both self-destructive and about self-love at the same time, but in the end I think it’s the curiosity that we have about our own looks that’s the main thing.”
In fact she experiences this sense of self-destruction all too often when shooting a new series. “Every time I take pictures of myself I think – I’m never doing this again, I hate this, this is so frustrating, this is so boring, I hate looking at my face, I hate looking at my body, I hate this, I hate that. The whole thing is so stressful and you want to give up, but then I have to remind myself that I never make anything good in the first hour. I always know that in the end I’ll surprise myself, so that keeps me interested.”
An element that often makes its appearance in Juno’s photography is the color pink. Partly this is because she naturally loves the color, but also because she knows it provokes a reaction. “The associations that we have with pink is that it’s girly, feminine and delicate, but it’s also very sexual and the color of our flesh. It’s a color that can get on people’s nerves or make people feel embarrassed. Apparently it is the most draining color to look at, so if you are in a room that is all pink, you become very tired very quickly, which I like.”
The series that has brought her international attention is The Honeymoon. In these images Joyce moves on from being a seductive receptionist to becoming someone’s wife. Shot in a resort solely for honeymooning couples, Joyce is shown prepping for her big night in the surreal bathroom of her suite.
“I need a place that looks like it is stuck in a time warp; so you would have no idea when this could be,” Juno says. The location for The Honeymoon series appealed to her because it was pink, had mirrors and looked like it came straight from the 1960s.
However, once there, she suddenly realised the story behind the location: “My previous series was about seduction and isolation, and now this was a honeymoon resort, so all of a sudden I had to think about intimacy, monogamy, marriage and the honeymoon. All these things that are catered to women, that women dream about, but do we really enjoy them?
“I was very cynical about marriage, but once I was there I thought it was actually kind of cool. There were a lot of couples in love. Every morning there’d be breakfast, so I would have to sit by myself at a table, surrounded by lots of couples holding hands. Sometimes the waitress would ask me ‘Is he coming?’ and then point at the empty chair. But nope, there was no man.”