In bright pink and baby blue images, 21-year-old photographer Kelia Anne MacCluskey captures the darker side of "purity culture" and American abstinence. Her obsession with ideas of innocence began when she moved from her traditional Christian high school to the free-spirited Savannah College of Art and Design, and culminates in her photo series "True Love Waits." Kelia explains that the series, shot entirely on large format film, was more than just a lesson in patience, but also an exploration of "the concept of purity, and what happens when it's lost."
Kelia describes herself as a hopeless romantic. The nostalgic compositions of plants, torn-out pages of library books, and plastic bags in her images create not just a visual vocabulary, but a physical one. She captures ideas of feminine purity with objects rather than people - with a cut peach sitting on a delicate plate or a set of oddly sterile floral sheets. These perfectly controlled, highly feminine images conjure a dreamy American suburb, where young girls are imprisoned by their girlhood. "True Love Waits"feels like a nostalgic look through the girl next door's diary.
When and how did you first get into photography?
I went on a trip to London when I was about 12 years old, and my dad brought me this amazing little point and shoot camera. I spent more time with that camera than I did my friends on that trip. In high school, I floated around trying hobby after hobby: singing, dancing, theatre, horseback riding, volleyball - I never succeeded at any of these things. Out of frustration, I picked up that little point and shoot. I felt at that moment like a light shone down on me and I heard angels singing. I started making images with a passion that had never revealed itself until that moment. I still haven't lost that passion (or that little point and shoot).
I read that you want to illustrate your youth with your photos - can you elaborate on that?
Nostalgia is one of the strongest emotions I've ever known. I often love a memory more than the moment itself. So I make images that make that nostalgia more accessible - but not just for myself. I like to make images that other people can find their younger self longing for.
Can you tell us more about the concept for "True Love Waits"?
I attended a private Christian high school that primarily taught abstinence. I grew up wearing a purity ring, and made a promise that I would remain a virgin until marriage. After graduating, and then attending a much more liberal art school, I began to realize my distaste for the way purity and innocence was taught.
At my high school, we were taught that if you had already had sex, you could ask God for forgiveness and your purity would be restored. This implied that your virginity and purity made you more valuable. It always seemed that the message was mostly aimed at the girls. Boys had another purity standard that didn't seem as important as ours. These images represent the concept of purity and innocence, what happens when it's "lost," and finally realizing that your "purity" doesn't define your value.
Text Hana Beach
Photography Kelia Anne MacCluskey