feminist, photographer and model myla dalbesio on the myth of the american road trip
You’ll remember her as the subject of the Calvin Klein “inbetweenie” debate, but Myla Dalbesio should be recognised for her art, and not just her body.
sel-portrait after the beach, new york, 2012
Myla Dalbesio is known mainly as a model, or, more precisely, the girl from the 2014 Calvin Klein campaign who sparked the debate over whether a woman of a US size 8 should be considered a plus size model. But behind the "inbetweenie" controversy, Myla's art and photography still stands strong.
On the wall of Myla's studio are two of her artworks - phrases written in sparkling crystals. One reads, "How is Your Body?" - a Buddhist greeting and a reminder to check in with yourself. The other states"I'm Higher Than I've Ever Been" - a line borrowed from one of her fave hip-hop songs. Dalbesio's work is a comment on the contemporary female gaze, and deals with issues of body representation, sexuality and modern femininity. She also explores the passions, demons and virtues of today's American society: consumerism, mysticism and the impossible vastness of its land on ideas of freedom. The spiritual aspect of travelling - particularly road trips - is something she has captured with her point-and-shoot Contax for years. We talked to Myla about her roots and inspirations, contemporary beauty standards and driving through the night on your own.
Where did you grow up?
I'm from Wisconsin in the middle North on the great lakes, and I spent a lot of time in the woods hiking with my sister when I was growing up. I feel a very strong connection with nature. There are a lot of strong women in my family, and I guess it influenced me in being a feminist.
How did you get into photography?
My mother was a photographer, although not professional. In high school I was really into it, and I spent a lot of time in the dark room. I didn't have a ton of friends, and during lunch I would just go hang out in the dark room by myself, working on developing stuff. I stopped for a while and then got back to it after I started modelling. A photographer who I was working with dug out an old Contax point and shoot camera from his closet and gave it to me, which was amazing: these cameras are great and quite expensive as they don't make them anymore.
What are your main interests as a photographer?
I'm still very into photographing women. There is a connection I share with women that I can't really share with a guy. Also I find women's bodies so beautiful, compelling and inspiring! I've also been working on a still life series in my studio, inspired by Paul Outerbridge, who did lots of nudes and still lives in the 1920-30s. In my project there are traditional still life objects like fruit and flowers but then there are also features of contemporary femininity like tampons, nipple clamps, dildos etc.
Does your interest in the female form stem from your modelling work?
Yes, I think it does, because the body in the modelling industry is the main focus of everything. Also, being a non-traditional size and working in fashion influenced me a lot. As a size 8, when I walk into a casting filled with size 0 girls - even though no one in the room looks at me strange - I feel it. It's always there, so hard to escape it.
Tell us about your travel series, Wasted on the Way and Saturn Returns…
Those two series' are like a photo diary. Wasted on the Way captures my early and mid 20s, and Saturn Returns is meant to be from 27 until 30. It is the moment when Saturn returns to the original place where it was when you were born, and this is when you figure all your shit out, make sense of who you are and what you wanna do with your life. A lot of Wasted on the Way was taken in Venezuela and on road trips around the East coast, some of it in the South, some in Pennsylvania, and upstate. Some of the Saturn Returns photos I took recently on road trips in California with my boyfriend.
Road trips are such a big part of American culture, they're an ultimate symbol of freedom. Is that something you can relate to?
I've done many road trips! A lot of them back and forth between Wisconsin and New York when I was 18, 19 and 20 by myself. Road trips with friends are wonderful but doing a long car trip by yourself is so special. I remember being 18 and just driving through the middle of the night and you're so alone because you're the only person on the road, but you also feel really alive and free and powerful, you-can-go-anywhere kind of feeling.
See more work by Myla Dalbesio here.
Text Anastasiia Fedorova
Photography Myla Dalbesio