Los Angeles-based photographer and sculptor Amanda Charchian is an artist with a distinct message and mission: look beyond the surface and let yourself be free.
With one self-published book, The Collective Yes, and another in progress, Amanda relies heavily upon her intuition and imagination in all aspects of her life. Her work exemplifies this, creating fantasy crystal sculptures which have been exhibited internationally, most recently at the Gajah Gallery in Singapore. With a fascination and profound appreciation for mystery and the complexities of the unknown, Amanda's images often resemble psychedelic paintings from the seventies with a hint of fashion and sensuality. Although nudity is a reoccurring theme within her photographic work, Amanda has that rare ability to deeply connect with the women she shoots. Approaching her subjects with a genuine curiosity and eagerness to satisfy, she surpasses that merely voyeuristic gaze, which often seems like an exploitative and repetitive ploy to shock or get attention. It is this freshness, focus and honesty, as well as her informed and mature understanding of the different layers of sexuality, that make her images instantly recognisable and timeless. We caught up with Amanda at her apartment in Silverlake to find out how she does it.
Why do you primarily shoot women?
Women carry a mysterious depth and knowledge which is more fascinating to me than men. It's as if they hold more of the world's history within them. I just feel like there is this wisdom which I don't even think we are all conscious of; but that thing that you call a "woman's intuition" is just about being more tapped into what it means to be human. It's a creative energy.
How do you bring that sort of energy out of the women you photograph?
By exploring her. By being curious enough about her mystery to ignite something within her. It's often a raw beauty that they carry and we explore that together. There is this exchange of energy during my shoots which is very creative and feminine, it's almost sexual. Not like you want to touch them sexual - it surpasses that. Yesterday for example, I was shooting a continuation of my Portable Portals series in Sayulita on the beach and I was thinking that it'd be great if I had a nude to explore this project with as I hadn't done that before, then came a life drawing model from Paris who was happy to take part. I didn't even have to ask her, she just knew.
You often shoot multiple girls and nudity is a reoccurring theme within your photographic work. Why is that?
I've recently been really into shooting multiple girls - more than ever. It becomes more of an adventure, like we're having this experience that is so heightened; everyone is excited. It's just really fun to be creative in any capacity with a group of people. I find that a lot of the time now, even in a social setting, people want to turn everything into some kind of "photo shoot" - even if it's just an Instagram thing! But when you're doing a non-spontaneous shoot where you ask people to come in, it becomes like a sisterhood. Fashion has a great way of doing that. I love clothes and fashion but feel like it maybe tells too much of a story which is outside of the humanness that I'm trying to capture when focusing on nudes. I like the rawness and purity of shooting nudes. I feel like sometimes clothes distract from that because it has a specific history. When I'm shooting these amazing women, it's an honest appreciation.
You studied philosophy, water colour painting and went on to study photography. Now you split your time between shooting and making crystal sculptures. What is your main source of inspiration?
The subconscious and things I don't already understand are my main source of inspiration. I think when you close your eyes, you can see way more; you see a different reality. I don't think the reality you see with your eyes open is more real than the reality with your eyes closed and bridging the gap between those two things is exciting to me. I get inspiration from all types of mysticism whether it's Hindu, Kabala, Western magic, Tibetan Zen or Kundalini yoga which teach me to "let go". An artist has to let go of preconceived notions to be able to create authentically. I'm just really interested in the study of the hidden but I'm also really into fashion and making it conceptual. Even my Iranian heritage is an influence. The language is so poetic. When you say "I'm scared" it translates to "my stomach has left me." It's very dramatic and intense. I really think that has inspired my work a lot.
Why do you exclusively shoot analog - what is it about film that attracts you?
I feel like it translates and captures the energy better. If you squint your eyes, you see small particles in the air... that's like film grain to me. I've never taken a digital image that I felt was communicating the energy that was there while I was shooting my subject.
You've visited some of the most beautiful places - how important is the location for you?
Location is paramount. I've been to Iceland, Costa Rica, Columbia, Mexico, Israel and Egypt just to shoot. I am planning to publish a small zine that will be a cross between National Geographic and Playboy.
Do you ever think about legacy and what you want your contribution to be?
I think to be on this earth is to have some awareness about what's going on and have some reaction to it. I think that's the job of the artist. To pay attention and try to influence people to wake the fuck up. I would love to inspire people to be more free with perception.
Definitely more crystal sculptures that will be figurative in nature. I am working on a book of surreal nudes that will come out at the end of the year and also continuing to work in fashion photography. My work is based on intuition, so while I have goals and specific projects, you never really know what's next!
Text Zeyna Sy
Photography and artwork Amanda Charchian