May 23, 2014

Spotlight: Juno Calypso
Am I beautiful yet?

I came across Juno Calypso's photos in a profile piece in Slate, and they had a hypnotic effect on me as I scrolled through the images of a dazed-looking girl coming out of a cake, laying face-down next to a tin of pork, and using various punitive-looking beauty contraptions that defied any specific time period. The expression of the girl in the photos was eerily familiar; she looked perfectly airbrushed but vacant and empty, in a way that made me recall so many "after" pictures of botox advertisements, fad diets, plastic surgery and other drastic beauty procedures. In a more subtle way, though, the pictures reminded me of myself, my friends and the women I encounter everyday- not because we're vapid or obsessed with physical perfection, but because I think that most, if not all girls and women have felt the pressure or the need to subject themselves to severe correctional measures to make themselves into a more synthetic and manipulated version of themselves.

The woman in Juno Calypso's photos, Joyce, is a self-portrait of 24-year-old Juno turned into a symbolic character. Juno wrote on her website that a theme central to her photos is that "Objects once perceived as radical, innovative, fun and nutritious – an electronic anti-wrinkle mask, computer equipment from the 1980s, baby oil, a tin of cold meat – have become joyless and oppressive. Joyce appears alone, consumed by artifice. Her glazed appearance acting as a mirror to the exhaustion felt whilst bearing the dead weight of constructed femininity." It takes a certain kind of nerve to highlight the stupidity of unreasonable feminine expectations that have become a cultural zeitgeist. What I liked about Juno Calypso's photos is that she brings it to the forefront and has the wit and humor to make her message as entertaining as it is perceptive. I talked to Juno about the acclaim her work is getting and the creation of her alter-ego.

THE LE SIGH: When did your interest in art and photography begin? How has your interest changed over the years and at what point did you decide you wanted it to be your career?

Juno Calypso: Art was always my favorite subject in school, and then I got really into photography during sixth form. When I was seventeen, I took a series of photographs of my friend with a nosebleed made of strawberry jam. They were the first photographs I'd made that I really loved, but my teacher hated them. So when I began my art foundation I decided I was going to be painter, but the tutors there didn't really like those either, so they sent me to the photography department. That was when I started to make some of my best work, so it worked out in the end. For a while I decided I wanted to be a fashion photographer, and it was only when I got into the photography degree at London College of Communication that I became exposed to the world of fine art photography, and it all clicked. I remember the exact day, halfway through my degree, I was drunk walking home from the London Art Fair and sent a text to my friend saying, "I'm going to be an artist." I probably thought it sounded really cool at the time but I'm glad it ended up having some truth to it.

TLS: The idea of the oppression of constructed femininity is a theme you've mentioned as pervasive in your work. Are there other themes in your photo sets?

JC: Food and solitude seem to be recurring themes, which sounds quite sad when put it into words but I like to think there's also an element of humor in there.

TLS: What inspired you to create Joyce? Is she an autobiographical character or symbolic?

JC: She’s a bit of both. She was conceived as an accident. And now in retrospect she could be seen as an exaggerated version of myself, but she's mostly a warped stereotype. I like the idea of disturbing those utopian images of women. Like the women you see in yogurt advertisements. There was a web series called Target Women by Sarah Haskins which sums it up perfectly. That was a big influence on the way the project began.

TLS: Your work has been covered by Slate, Dazed and Confused, and a plethora of other publications. How has attention on your work grown over the past few years?

JC: It's been a lovely surprise to see the work getting that attention. It started when Hotshoe Magazine published my work as a part of a prize awarded for my work in my graduate show. Then being included in the Catlin Art Prize last year took it up a level when I started to see my work published in newspapers and advertised on the tube in London.

TLS: What has been your most exciting moment as a young artist and what has been your greatest challenge?

JC: Winning at the Catlin Art Prize was a good one. The greatest challenge, being a recent graduate, I think is always going to be navigating your work without the everyday guidance of your friends and tutors.

TLS: Can you name some influences?

JC: John Waters, Pedro Almodovar, Charlie White, Alex Prager, Cindy Sherman, Stanley Kubrick, Matthew Barney.

TLS: Where has been your favorite place that you've traveled to? Where's next on your list?

JC: Malta has been my favorite so far. I think I made some of my best work there. The houses still have a 1950s/1970s feel to them - a lot of pink and blue interiors. I'd like to explore the United Kingdom more. I went to Margate for the first time recently and realized I don't have to go very far from home to find what I'm looking for.

TLS: What are some of your other interests, outside of photography and art?

JC: I listen to a lot of music and talk a lot of rubbish with my friends.

TLS: If you had to choose a career that was totally different from art and photography, what would it be?

JC: I wanted to be an actress when I was a kid so I think I'd choose that.

TLS: What do you hope viewers gain from your work?

JC: Laughter. And perhaps that they can relate to the feeling of the work in some way.

TLS: What's next for you? Are there any upcoming plans or projects you're working on? What are some short term and long term goals you have?

JC: At the moment I'm working on a new body of work, which includes new photographs and short films. I'm also working on a behind the scenes video using footage from the last three years, which will be screened in Milan at the end of the month. Alongside my own work I've started art directing music videos and short films which has been really fun because I can leave the technical stress to someone else and focus on the details. My short term goals are to finish this new project and exhibit it in London later this year. Long term - I'd just like to continue doing what I do, and surprise myself with what I'm able to make.

View more of Juno's work here.

Carolyn Lang, who likes to write and travel and spends most of her free time in Middle Eastern restaurants. She is the combined effort of everyone she's ever known. Carolyn keeps track of things that fascinate her here.