Despite the recent dissemination of carefully edited videos attempting to prove otherwise, Planned Parenthood does not just provide women with a safe and legal way to end pregnancy. In fact abortions only make up 3% of the organization's services, while nearly five million people — whether women, men, trans, or non-binary — visit annually for things from health exams to pamphlets. Los Angeles photographer Maggie West's latest sublimely lit series underlines the diversity of people who stand in support of Planned Parenthood. They include Arvida Byström, Clementine Creevy, Peggy Noland, Alia Shawkat, and Ru Paul's Drag Race winner Alaska Thunderfuck.
"Growing up, birth control and feminine care were not conversations I could comfortably have with my parents. I'm so grateful for planned parenthood and all their services," says stylist Niki Takesh. "I believe in the power of feminine energy and the divinity of womanhood. Therefore I believe in a woman's right to choose what is best for her and her body," says Alaska. "I may be a pretend woman, but I am honored to be a part of this timely and important project." On November 9, following an election that may determine the future of Planned Parenthood and everyone who stands to benefit from it, the series will open as part of Maggie's first solo show at Leiminspace in Los Angeles. 100% of the profits from print and merchandise sales at the show will go directly to Planned Parenthood LA. Here Maggie talks about combining her supernatural use of light and color with this very real-world cause.
When did you conceive of this series and how did you decide to make it a benefit for Planned Parenthood?
I had been considering doing an art show for charity for a while now, and Planned Parenthood seemed like a natural choice. Planned Parenthood has provided me with birth control and health care services when I didn't have any other options. Almost every woman I know has visited Planned Parenthood at some point in her life. With so many politicians trying to take away Planned Parenthood's funding, I thought it was important to do a series that showcased people standing together to support the organization.
Are these all people who you know personally or through the internet? How did you decide who to reach out to?
It's a really eclectic mix of people I knew from other projects — a lot of models were in my last book Kiss or my upcoming book 23 — and people I met on the internet. It's a really cool group of models, artists, actors, writers, porn stars, etc. I wanted to show the diversity of people who are committed to supporting Planned Parenthood.
The subjects are a mix of male and female-identifying, but mostly women. Was this mix something you intended at the outset or did it happen organically?
For Stand, I felt like it was really important that the subjects were a mix of people who identified as male and female. I think there is an ongoing notion that supporting Planned Parenthood is a cisgender women's issue, however the organization provides many health services and educational information to cisgender men and transgender men and women all over the country. I thought it was important for those people to be represented in the series.
You also mentioned a project you're doing which explores the spectrum of gender and identity. Can you tell us more about this project?
I have a book coming out this spring called 23. The book features transgender and cisgender individuals posing nude under a series of colored lighting schemes, like the Stand series. With 23, I wanted to examine the spectrum of gender identity and sexuality. There have been many books of nude photography, but I noticed that a lot of them focus on only men or only women and a lot of them do not include transgender people at all. Also, a lot of these books tend to depict men and women in very stereotypical "masculine" or "feminine" poses. I wanted to do a book of nudes that depicted gender and sexuality in a less binary way.
You are also exhibiting images from your book Kiss of couples kissing and your bodily fluid photo series Fluid. Do you intend all the works in this show to relate to one another?
I never really intended to showcase this work together. However a lot of my work is about the nature of intimacy and sexuality and so it does fit together in a really nice way.
"Stand" opens at Leiminspace in Los Angeles on November 9.
Text Hannah Ongley
Photography Maggie West