Amanda Charchian on the experience of women photographing women.
For Amanda Charchian, photography is so much more than the final image, it's a process of female bonding. The Los Angeles based photographer brings women together in intimate situations, often shot nude and in dramatic places around the world. The result is her most recent project Pheromone Hotbox documenting the surreal beauty of these intense experiences and revealing a new angle on modern femininity. We spoke to Charchian about the link between female relationships and post-feminist ideologies to get an insight into the world of Pheromone Hotbox.
What kick-started the project?
It began in 2012. I found myself obsessively and manically photographing the two young women I was travelling with - both artists - as if each frame was a piece of evidence in an unsolved mystery I had just come upon. That was the first time I had a conception of a certain power that female artists have that contains a seesaw between sexuality and creativity. Confidence is seductive. For me, so much of my sense of identity comes from my artistic output.
Talk us through the ideas behind Pheromone Hotbox.
By delving into the tension I started to understand that what I was experiencing was exclusive to one female photographing another intimately, in a setting that felt wild both within our mindset and also circumstance. For women the energy of artistic production and sexuality is inextricably linked - most often on a subconscious level. This is what I call "The Pheromone Hotbox", a space in which a biologically confounded process occurs as our pheromones interact (in a nonsexual way) to generate creativity through simultaneous trust and mischievousness. I discovered that through the camera I had unique access to the creative women around me. This newfound mode of intimate photographic investigation grew into a project in its own right. As the next three years took me around the world, I sculpted the dimensions of the Pheromone Hotbox.
How has photographing these women in such an intimate way developed your relationships with them?
It's often the moments before photographing someone, their shy gestures, the way they prepare, the way they react to imminent danger or threat of being caught nude in public, that shows me the most about them. The image almost becomes an impression of a frozen moment devoid of all those experiences because those are not things you can convey with exactitude nor would you want to. That is true intimacy, becoming aware of moments that are impossible to document in entirety. The photographs in these instances were never a means to an end. They are more like an excuse to have a new experience.
What inspires you and your friends?
Possibilities of the unknown, the potential humour in everything, the absurdity of the lives we were born into, the perfect balance of nature.
What do you think defines the line between representation and exploitation when documenting nudity?
In the case that a woman willingly takes a nude portrait, it becomes a letter to the world; broadcasted message of here-ness. You cannot exploit the empowered.
How does your work take on post-feminist ideologies?
I saw feminist trail blazer Gloria Steinem speak recently. She said "Hate generalises. Love specifies." Post feminism encourages women to define femininity for themselves. Oppression comes from defining gender roles in a fixed manner.
Can you tell us an interesting story behind one of your images?
I often have felt on these adventures that I am connected to something bigger than me, something conspiring towards magic. For example when we shot in Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, I had to apply for a permit to rent it out after-hours. I had arrived from NYC after driving eight hours from the airport with two artists I had just met. I had been trying to scheme ways we would be able to shoot nudes in there, knowing that it was against the state park rules. I had the foresight to ask for a female guard to take us around and bought all these fabrics to drape around them that they would accidentally "drop."
We arrived around 9pm and I remember the desert sky being very clear with a full moon shining above us. I gathered our group and had everyone hold hands, look at the moon and visualise the guard being totally fine with our nudes. When we entered the tungsten lit lobby after taking the 50-story elevator down, the guard turned to me and said "I have seen your photography. I really like it." After that, I had a new sense of confidence. We started the shoot without any of the premeditated cautionary robes, walking in the nude freely through the dwarfing stalactite caves.
What have you learnt about modern femininity through this project?
I am definitely still processing what I have learned. There are moments that I have experienced since the project where it has become apparent that my connectivity with women has grown. When I was shooting a fashion editorial in London a few weeks ago, I was working with a model that is definitely used to being shot by men - particularly jaded men. I sensed that my experience connecting with her and the sense of excitement and adventure I brought to set was something I have carried over from the Pheromone Hotbox project. She was happier to be there because of it and we created unique images. I realise that the Hotbox is just a state of mind in which being fully present and empathetic to let the full power of your creativity unleash so you can make life as awesome as possible.
Pheromone Hotbox is available for pre-order here.
Text Lula Ososki
Photography Amanda Charchian