How the young photographer is exploring herself through others (in a Heatmiser wig.)
Laurence Philomène's hair might share the same shade as a fistful of Cheetos, but the 22-year-old photographer's world is all pink. Pastel, pop, perfect pink. "I'm sitting in my living room now and it's everywhere," she tells me on the phone from her native Montreal. "The most important thing about an image I create is its colors and the ways they interact with each other. I'd go as far as saying that color is more important to me than the subject or composition of an image." She's shot self portraits on shocking pink shag rugs, bathed My Little Ponies in Pepto Bismol, even painted subjects fuschia from head-to-toe. But this playful palette also lends itself beautifully to explorations of identity and femininity. As she exhibits work in Molly Soda's group show Same (presently on view at New York's Stream Gallery) and continues shooting Me vs Others -- a series that's seen fellow bright young photographers Hobbes Ginsberg, Vivian Fu, and Avrida Bystrom don an orange wig -- we catch up with Laurence to discuss the future of feminist art.
How did you first get into photography?
I always took pictures with little point and shoot cameras growing up, but when I was 14, I became really interested in these Japanese dolls called Blythe. There was an active community sharing their amazing photos of the dolls on Flickr and in forums, so I started posting my own images online and got a great response. It was an escape for me, especially in high school. After about a year of shooting the dolls, I realized that I could take pictures of other things. I started shooting myself and my friends, and discovered a real community of young photographers online, some of whom i-D has interviewed. We were all lonely teenagers on the internet taking pictures and getting to know each other. Now, many years later, we're all professional photographers and friends in real life.
Tell us about the gender dynamics at play in your work, particularly in your series featuring boys.
In my life and in my work, I try to reject masculinity altogether. I do photograph boys and masculine-identified people, and often times I shoot them in feminine clothing, but I don't think there's anything radical about that at all. That's not the reason I'm doing it, I'm doing it because it's what feels natural to me. I don't care for representing masculinity, I like to have fun exploring femininity in different ways.
What does femininity mean to you?
To me, femininity is a very socially constructed concept, but it's also what I find strength in. It's something that I'm attracted to, but feels really foreign to me at the same time.
The focus of your work is color, but colors are often very gendered. Tell us about your use of pink.
Although colors are also constructed -- our interpretations of them change over time -- when people see an image that's pink, they'll often initially read it as gendered and think there's a message that's trying to be communicated. In terms of color theory, pink is a very calming color, which is interesting because people will react strongly to it no matter what message you're trying to send, if any. Many years ago, I would have said that I'm reclaiming pink through exploring femininity, but that's not always the reason I use it. Now, it's really a color that I'm just attracted to. The way I work with color is very instinctive and what feels right to me. I always go back to pink; it's almost become a gut feeling.
What are you working on now?
I have work in Same, a group show in New York that's still up for a few days. It was curated by Molly Soda and it considers the phenomenon of seeing yourself through others online. I'm working on a project called Me vs Others --it's kind of a fake diary that explores how I see myself by taking portraits of others posed in a wig that looks like my hair. I like to shoot a mix of people I'm super close with, ones I've just met, and a mix of fellow artists -- I've shot Vivian, Hobbes, Molly, and Avrida -- people that I look up to. It's self portraiture through something other than myself.
Female creatives are finding much greater representation through online platforms. But what do you think feminist art needs moving forward, beyond visibility?
i-D recently interviewed Maisie Cousins and I really relate to what she had to say. I think the internet remains an important platform for people of all genders and any up and coming artists to put themselves out there, but I do think that we need to move beyond "feminist art" as vagina or menstrual art. We need to create more important spaces for women of color, trans women, queer women, and disabled women to be represented and to represent themselves. Hopefully, the internet will help a new generation become more educated about and engaged with feminist art and issues, but the future needs more diversity.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Laurence Philomène