Take MTV’s “Cribs” and the naked selfie up a notch and you just might have Juno Calypso.
Known for her painfully pink self-portrait series “The Honeymoon Suite”, Calypso’s known for playing dress up in the strangest locations.
Her latest body of work, “What To Do With a Million Years”, involved venturing out to Las Vegas to Avon founder Jerry Henderson's 16,000 square foot luxury underground bunker.
Built in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War, the property was sold to a mysterious society with interests beyond survival. Perfectly preserved, the bunker boasts an all-pink room, a swimming pool and a guest house. Calypso spent a week working alone in the space, discovering the owners leaflets on cryonics that dated up to the present day. Her series winks at a holiday home for the immortal, combining sexy with eery in this homage to 60s futurism.
Struck by the atmosphere she creates and the lengths she goes to for her work, I had to meet her. I visited her exhibition at TJ Boulting Gallery in London to see if I could get a few words.
You often get compared to Cindy Sherman. That must get quite annoying. What do you tend to say?
I don't mind it so much because I think it's good to recognise another female artist who's done so well. But then I think it ignores a lot of people. There's Francesca Woodman, a guy called Samuel Fossa, there are so many other photographic artists who have done it as well. She dominated the scene. Sometimes, it feels like a lazy comparison but then I have to understand that not everybody has studied the history of art or the history of photography. I'd be lying if I tried to be "Oh, I've never even heard of her!". She was an influence but she's not the only person who has done it.
So in the past you've talked about something called "the looped gaze". What is that?
I read it in an essay on a really good website called "The New Inquiry". They wrote about the looped gaze and how, if you look into the camera now, with our webcams and with our phones, you don't look into the lens, you look at your own eyes. It creates that weird perspective where, when you look at someone's selfie or someone's self-portrait, they're not looking at your eyes, they're looking just a little bit below. That can upset people sometimes because they don't feel like they're being looked at, they feel like they're being ignored. The looped gaze is a nice antidote to the male gaze, the "oh women are just taking pictures of themselves for other people". It's anyone looking at themselves and so you're looping, your eyes looking at your eyes. It completely ignores an audience which I like because we tend to look down on some of that as selfish behaviour and think "oh you should be looking at other people". It dismisses everyone else and I like that.
If you've ever written diary posts and gone back to them, it can be embarrassing. Is it like that when you photograph yourself?
If I look at something I've written from years ago, I get "oh why did I say that". But with these pictures of myself, I don't feel embarrassed because it's so constructed and it's been so labored over that it doesn't feel like me anymore. It just feels like a puppet. Whereas, when I've taken a selfie and put it on Facebook and look back at it a year later, I'm like "ah, you're trying so hard". That look that people have in a selfie is just...I used to keep a diary from age 9 until 19 and that is cringe! I've got a whole box full of them, notebooks, and it's deeply embarrassing but it feels necessary for me. It feels like a nice reflection. It's funny because I'm mostly naked in them but it doesn't feel embarrassing. I can't even explain why.
Have your parents seen your work?
My dad is the printer! He prints it but he's also a doctor so printing and photography is just his hobby. He's good at being really "Yes. This one is overexposed and this one needs more black and this one needs more that". But he's not going to say "Why are you doing this?". He understands. It feels bad but maybe...it's not just a naked picture on my phone. It's so elevated. I've put so much effort into it, if you were to shame me for being naked, that would be really redundant.
Does that take away any of the awkwardness?
It's really hard. When I'm actually printing, the first time I show it to him, "...so this is number five". Yeah. It's awkward at first.
Your shoots involve you travelling alone to go and meet strangers, there must be a lot of anxiety. Is there a relief to finishing a shoot?
I'm trying to think what the sequence of emotions is. There are two parts inside of me that are battling each other. There's the really shy side that's like "just go home, just stop, just sabotage, stop all of this right now". There's another part that's like "life is so boring, why not do something like this? Why not just go?". You know when you've had a few drinks and you suddenly feel like you can talk to anyone, it's that kind of weird feeling! You feel kind of possessed, "you know what, I'm going to do it". You can only do it with that kind of adrenaline. On Christmas day when you speak to your relatives on the phone and you're like "Ugh!", when you know you're forced into it by someone else. It's horrible, like when your parents say "go and ask that person" I don't want to be forced into it but when I'm doing it for my own thing, I guess there's something in me that says "Just go. Do it". I'll listen to my internal parent but not my actual one.
You're quite a down to earth person. Has this ever affected your professional work?
I guess sometimes in meetings with professionals, I can say things and know I'm saying the wrong thing. I don't know, but then I think "this is what you get". I'm not going to be like “social media manager” or “PR”. I'm going to say the wrong thing. I like watching documentaries about musicians and artists and people that have done fucking bombastic shit. Like "wow, you've gotten away with being that rude and that unprofessional but you're still considered an icon". Like Amy Winehouse, Jesus Christ she did some obscene shit but that's what you get. Artists are not polished people...but I'm still embarrassed about my way of handling some meetings!