Megan Christiansen lays her naked body against the roof of a multi-storey building. She stands tall, wearing a body stocking, arms outstretched in front of a high-rise tower block. The visual artist’s new photobook, Bad Boy, is as much a love story to New York as the male subjects are.
“New York City almost becomes another character in the book,” says Christiansen. “It’s like a secret lover or a silent narrator. It has been the one constant relationship I have had since I moved here and we will continue to be involved long after the men in my life are gone.”
While studying Spatial Design at Auckland University of Technology, the New Zealand-born artist learned to look at the body from a structural point of view. “The cool thing was because all of my teachers were trained architects, they were critiquing my work from a completely different perspective and always pushing me to think about my work from all sides,” says Christiansen. “Whenever I take pictures, I try and consider the same things: attempting to figure out new ways to create tension and narrative between the subject and their surroundings.”
When Christiansen moved to New York in 2013, she began to work on two separate photographic projects which eventually combined to create Bad Boy: a self-portrait series and a collection of snaps of the men in her life. To accompany her collection of images, Christiansen asked her lovers to write text captions about her. One anonymous male says: “I like her cuz she’s a bad boy and she’s honest about it. She does fuck with the Kardashians pretty hard but whatever that’s chill. My best advice is, don’t underestimate her because she’s probably smarter than you.”
Christiansen believed it was an astute perception and chose the term “bad boy” for her title. “To me, a bad boy is someone who does whatever the fuck they want and knows what they believe in,” she says. “They are a little mysterious, they are independent; they probably smoke cigarettes or ride a motorcycle.”
Other captions lament Christiansen’s “bad boy” persona, wishing she would give more of a fuck. “I know now it was all for naught,” one writes. “You seek enough novelty to capture your attention and once you get your fix, it’s over.” Another is completely stumped; “I honestly don’t know what to write,” he says. “I started writing like two sentences then I didn’t like it and deleted it.”
“I am very comfortable with my body and my sexuality, so I don’t really give a shit about what people think ”– Megan Christiansen
“I think there was something about their statements being in print that was particularly daunting,” explains Christiansen. “It’s not like a tweet or a post on Instagram that you can delete later if no one likes it. I was asking them to be completely honest in their expression and really commit to it. A few of the guys really didn’t know what to say, or overthought the situation and completely psyched themselves out.”
While the text captions are provided exclusively by Christiansen's lovers, her photographed subjects are a mix of lovers and friends. “They were all men that I had come across in my initial years living in the city and who fascinated me in some way,” says Christiansen. “For me to be nude in the book really isn’t a big deal. I am very comfortable with my body and my sexuality, so I don’t really give a shit about what people think. However, for every man in the book that agreed to be photographed, especially the ones that agreed to be nude, it was a huge deal. It takes a great deal of trust for them to hand over the power and to know that I am going to portray them in a real and honest way.”
Further to offering a window into the sex-life of one New York single, Christiansen's book tells the story of a woman, thousands of miles away from home, trying to make a new life in an alien location. Four years on, Christiansen remains hopeful for the future of her project; "I am perpetually single, so there are hopefully more lovers to shoot in future," she says. After all, New York is a big city.
Bad Boy is available now from Christiansen's site
Follow Niamh Leonard-Bedwell on Twitter here @niamh_lb