Juno Calypso is a London based artist and photographer who explores the themes of femininity, solitude and desire. While studying at the London College of Communication LCC, Calypso began photographing herself disguised as her alter ego Joyce. Since then, the photographer has continued to capture and develop this complex character. In her work, Calypso makes use of wigs, face masks, and other items associated with femininity and beauty. Through her self-portraits, she comments on the laboured construct of femininity as she uses Joyce to reveal what i-D magazine describes as ‘the hidden labor of women behind bathroom doors’.
For one of her most successful projects, Calypso visited a romantic themed hotel in America and spent days taking self-portraits. This project was titled The Honeymoon and it has been awarded an international prize by The British Journal of Photography. The aesthetics of the hotel fit in perfectly with the character of Joyce; that is, the rooms are pastel pink with heart-shaped bathtubs and countless mirrors. Unsurprisingly, this was the perfect setting for Joyce, a woman obsessed with her physical appearance. In the photograph below, Calypso makes use of multiple mirrors, a face mask, and a wig. Here, the character of Joyce is looking at herself instead of the viewers. She is not returning the audience’s gaze but is rather staring at her own reflection. The use of the face mask paired with the woman’s gaze conveys her perpetual pursuit of idealism, perfection, and beauty. Speaking to Time, Calypso commented on the looped gaze employed in this photograph as she says, “Joyce is looking into the mirror at herself, she’s not looking into the viewer’s eye. She’s self-absorbed and she’s aware.”
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For another innovative project, Calypso chose to shoot her self-portraits in an underground Cold War era bunker. According to The Guardian, the house is situated in Las Vegas and it ‘has its own garden with fake trees, fake sunrises and fake scenery’. Built in 1978, the bunker was designed to save people from their biggest fear, death. Through the use of this location, Calypso makes use of a simple yet powerful metaphor. Taking this further, she captures photographs of Joyce performing femininity and striving to maintain her youth and beauty. Time Out notes that she uses the location built to save people from death as ‘a metaphor for our fear of ageing, or getting ugly, or going bald.’
Calypso emphasises that one can be a feminine-feminist.
While some may claim that Calypso’s work objectifies the woman and subjects her to the male gaze, Calypso notes that this is not true. She explains that the character of Joyce is not subject to neither the female gaze nor the male gaze. Instead, Calypso makes use of the looped gaze: “When someone takes a selfie, they’re not actually looking at the camera on their phone, they’re looking at their own eyes, and so they’re completely refusing the audience“. In addition to this, Calypso shared her views on feminism and the feminine ideal:
“Before I’d think constructed femininity and makeup was just a waste of our time, a distraction, that took all our money and just damaged us. But then I had this shift. I think there’s been a change in thought in feminism where now it’s more about choice. You can go to a pink honeymoon hotel and be vain, or narcissistic and you can indulge in femininity and all its stereotypes, without fear of being condemned or patronized or belittled or even abused. I think we have the right to indulge in these things. But it’s the way people treat people that indulge in those things that’s the problem. Not the make-up and the hair.“
In pointing out the laboured construct of femininity, Calypso shows that the feminine ideal is fake, exhausting, and painstaking. Her self-portraits purposely stress and highlight the performative nature of femininity as she notes “there’s no such thing as natural femininity – it’s a fake construct, so why not make it more fake.” Simultaneously, her work illustrates that it is one’s choice to indulge in femininity. Calypso explains that there is nothing shameful in wanting to be feminine: “If the world thinks you’re stupid and infantile for enjoying the color pink then that only makes me want to use it more.”
Juno Calypso’s photography will certainly continue to provoke thought and spark important conversations regarding the performative nature of femininity, masculinity, and gender. Her work can be found on her website junocalypso.com and her Instagram.