May 12, 2016

Spotlight: Maggy Swain

Maggy Swain finds safety in a space with unwritten guidelines.

Maggy Swain is a photographer currently based in Atlanta, Georgia whose vividly colorful work reflects self-image and the female gaze from her point of view. I was able to sit down with Maggy and ask some questions regarding her work, her perspective, the use of Instagram and their intrusive nudity guidelines, along with the co-founded @bathpix account that we love to scroll through for hours.

The Le Sigh: Why do you feel it's important to photograph female and non-binary models, including yourself, from your personal perspective?

Maggy Swain: I think it’s important that women and non-binary people are represented in a way that’s not a part of the male gaze. I started taking self portraits as a way to reconnect with myself on a more personal level, get more connected with how my body looks, and explore myself through imagery - but unfortunately a lot of the time when I share the pictures I take of myself the first responses I get are sexual comments and I think it’s weird how trying to explore yourself is sexualized constantly. I also think it’s important to photograph women and non-binary models because it shows a new representation of body image and taking control of how you represent yourself unapologetically, rejecting the male influenced definition of the female experience.

TLS: Why do you choose to use Instagram as a platform to showcase your work?

MS: I like Instagram as a platform for sharing work because you can connect and meet a lot of artists who are very encouraging of the work you’re producing. I also like it because it can become a visual diary of ideas. Oftentimes I’ll use selfies and phone photographs to test out ideas on shots I want to take and it’s a fun way to experiment with your work while connecting with people and getting inspired by the work other artists are producing.

TLS: It's safe to say at this point that the anonymous authorities of Instagram aren't too thrilled with how you realistically portray the female/non-binary form in your work. Why do you think the guidelines on nudity are so vague yet so strict at the same time and how do you think these guidelines affect female and non-binary online communities online?

MS: Yeah, I’m very confused about the nudity guidelines, now even the censored pictures I will post will be taken down even if I repost them three times and I’m not sure why or what the problem is. I think it’s weird what is and what isn't considered sexual sometimes. A post will be taken down of a girl in her underwear or bigger girls in bathing suits because it goes against what we see as generically or conventionally attractive I guess but I’m not really sure where the line is drawn or what the rules are on what Instagram considers "offensive content" it’s a way for them to censor what is considered beautiful. It censors the way people want to portray themselves and tells you that your body is "unsafe" or crude content, which happens a lot when people try to reclaim their bodies outside of how the media tells us we need to look.

TLS: Despite the harsh nudity regulations, would you consider Instagram to be a generally safe space for women and non-binary people?

MS: I’m not sure I would say it’s a safe place, you're still publicly on the Internet so there’s a lot of people who find it ok to give you their opinions, and send you unsolicited messages. There’s a lot of scrutiny on how you're suppose to look and present yourself and people have no problem telling you that how you look is weird and what you need to change, but that happens on all social media websites. On top of that the terms of use on nudity again control the way women and non-binary people are allowed to present themselves. You can connect with a lot of great people through it who are supportive though and that’s really why I keep using it and continue to try and get around the guidelines as best I can so I can share the content I want and represent myself the way I want online.

TLS: You also co-run the similarly colorful @bathpix account in addition to your regular profile on Instagram, how did the idea for this stunningly bright submission based page come into fruition?

MS: The idea came around Fall 2014 when Rian Archer and I both started it together, I really like taking baths and taking photos in the bath and have always loved bathroom decor and how creatively set up a bathroom can be. DM accounts were really popular at the time so we thought it would be really cool to start an account asking people to DM bathroom images that had weird designs or themes as well as posting our own content from time to time.

TLS: Was the selection process for the @bathpix zine difficult? There were so many good photos to choose from, and will there be more zines in the future?

MS: The process was kind of difficult, separating the zines by color made it easier so we could group our favorites from each color group and then we just picked the ones that flowed best which each other. YES there will be more zines, we kinda fell behind with making them because we are both in school and now in different states, but over the summer we are going to start back up and finish them all which you can buy through Gween Zines.

TLS: Currently your main artistic outlet is photography – do you see your work expanding to moving images, sound, or sculpture in the future?

MS: I've been experimenting with combining painting with photography for a little while, I’ve always liked to paint just never been very good at it. I have also started experimenting with film and making short videos which I want to keep doing. I like seeing the ideas I had as still images come alive in a video format.

Maggy's work can be found on her website here, and her Instagram here.

Kaitlin Turner-Simotics is journalist based out of Atlanta, Georgia with high interest in music, marxism, and memes.