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Juno Calypso’s The Honeymoon, 2015-2016
"Eternal Beauty", 2015Photography Juno Calypso

Photos exploring the isolation of a one-woman honeymoon

Juno Calypso shares new photos and speaks frankly about feminism, isolation and the love-hate relationship she has with her fictional character Joyce

In a world of media-trained pursed lips, Juno Calypso is a refreshing riposte to press release jargon. “There was no intent behind the project,” the London-based photographer speaks with emphasis whenever “Joyce” – the fictionalised character at the very centre of her work – is mentioned. “I started these self-portraits as a student, it was just practice, no intent, no underlining narrative. The name Joyce was nothing more than a title riddled with irony, because she’s not very joyful at all, obviously.”

When Calypso started taking pictures of herself – first in her grandmother’s spare room, later in hired hotels – she had no grand plans or intent. Yet it was here, in these isolated spaces, that Calypso would turn the camera in on herself. As guests slept, Joyce (the photo series) was birthed, underneath an array of wigs, amongst deliciously tacky decorations and in front of salmon pink wallpaper. Today, Joyce is in a state of continuation, made up of technically precise images and a multitude of ambiguities. It is an ongoing series, moving into its fifth-year and one that Calypso believes, ‘will go on until I’m dying and asking someone to screenshot my hologram at my funeral.”

In an age of selfies what’s most intriguing – as Calypso speaks about later in this interview – is a deliberate lack of identity, meaning this woman could be anyone. There’s Joyce with her face strapped inside a stifling beauty contraption, in “12 Reasons You're Tired All The Time”, or Joyce naked, painted head-to-toe in green, in “A Dream In Green”. When talking to Calypso about her new work she kept referring to this “ambiguity” to which Juno, Joyce and the fictionalised sense of self we are all capable of creating through manipulated photography, are inextricably linked.

Do you follow a particular process when you photograph?

Juno Calypso: The rooms really are the starting point for the images. They are the initial point of inspiration. The rest is improvisation. I’ll spend months searching for locations, props and costumes, then once I’m on location, I’ll shoot from morning to night until I get what I want. I take thousands of images but I’ll always end up editing it down to as little as three. I like to keep it mysterious and for images to be perfect.

These new images were shot on location at a couple’s resort in America. I made a trip to another hotel in the same area last spring. I knew the hotel had this other branch a couple hours away with completely different themed rooms to the ones I have shot in before. There was this one blue room with an indoor pool – that’s what really made me want to go there. Everything in the room was designed with visual aesthetics in mind, everything was calling out to be looked at. It was made for gazing at your lover from the mezzanine while they bathe in the pool below. There were mirrors everywhere but no windows, so, the space has a natural sense of restriction.

The colour blue is central to your new work, was this conscious?

Juno Calypso: I’ve always been obsessed by the colour pink. I didn’t feel much attraction to blue, but I think when I see someone use one colour to decorate an entire room, it makes me want to go there. That’s why I wanted to visit the blue room so much. The suite I was in had this huge blue-tinted domed skylight above the room, when you closed the curtains the room was completely saturated with blue light. After an hour I felt like I was hallucinating.

Since shooting these images I have been reading around the colour blue and its connotations. I love all the sexual and melancholic cliche’s of the colour blue, like the phrase ‘blue movies’, or ‘feeling blue’. I love connecting those cliches

How do you feel about your work being marked as an overtly feminist narrative?

Juno Calypso: I advocate feminism. Strongly. It just dominates the conversation, and I don’t always agree with the type of label people often try so hard to impose. I could talk about feminism and gender all day with the right people. It’s just the way some people ask, it’s usually condescending, or invasive. I get emails asking me to comment on whether or not I think I can have kids as well as having a career as a female artist. And I’m thinking, are you for real? What makes this stranger reach the assumption that I am happy to talk about that any given day just because I’m a woman? How do they not know I haven't just had a miscarriage or abortion. How do they even know I have a womb? The sad thing is, they probably feel like they are engaging in contemporary political chit chat, but this shit is personal.

Do you think other important messages are lost when people hone in on the feminist conversation?

Juno Calypso: People are so quick to mark the work as feminist commentary for different reasons. Sometimes they’re being insightful, sometimes they’re being lazy, and sometimes it’s because they hate women and they just wish women would stop making art about being women.

One of my male art teachers once said, “nobody wants to see more work about Barbies and tampons!” I had nothing to say back at the time, but as Jon Stewart said recently: “You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it.”

Let’s focus on some of those other key themes that recur in your new work…

Juno Calypso: Desire and disappointment recurs. In the new work, again we are seeing this woman alone in a room designed for two. She’s usually undressed, or dressed for seduction. So we don’t know if she’s waiting for somebody or if someone has just left, or if she is quite simply happily alone. I like to keep it deliberately ambiguous, but these two states play in contrast and are centred on this feeling of isolation, or loneliness.

These moments of solitude are the backbone of all your images, how do you feel when you are alone?

Juno Calypso: I feel great. Once you get over the fear of it, it’s fine. It calms you down inside. Isolation is also supposed to intensify your senses. Things look and taste better. I don't know though, it’s rare to be completely alone. You’re never alone with a phone. That romantic image we have of an artist making work in solitude is kind of shattered when the group chat is going off in the background. I like that though. Maybe other people would turn their phone off. Everyone has their own personalised level of solitude. There is no pure or sacred way to be creative.

Being alone can be great as long as you’ve made the choice yourself. We also tend to praise people who go on solo adventures with a purpose, like climbing a mountain, so that’s why what I do isn’t so strange. If I told you I hadn’t left my house for six months and hadn’t made any work in that time either, this would be a very different conversation.

“I feel tired, frustrated, calm, anxious, excited, paranoid, nervous, self-conscious, mischievous. I feel all the feelings” – Juno Calypso

I personally don’t mind being on my own. I don’t get afraid emotionally, but I get nervous in a really childish way. For example, when I was shooting Sensory Deprivation, (the birds-eye view image of me in the heart-shaped bath), it was late at night and I was alone in my room, alone in a chalet by a lake in the middle of nowhere. The bath water was murky and I started scaring imagining that there was something in the water about to emerge and attack me. Or that someone was in the room. I kept having to jump out.

Another night I was trying to relax by having an actual bath in the blue room. I turned on the local news and someone had found the body of a young woman inside a tote bag, washed up on a nearby lake. My room overlooked a lake. I started to convince myself that I was going to die in this couple’s resort. I knew I was being melodramatic but it’s funny how intensely you can terrify yourself when left alone with your imagination.

How do you feel when you taking pictures of yourself?

Juno Calypso: I feel tired, frustrated, calm, anxious, excited, paranoid, nervous, self-conscious, mischievous. I feel all the feelings. 

Do you think you will always be the subject of your own photos?

Juno Calypso: This project will go on until I’m dying and asking someone to screenshot my hologram at my own funeral, but I’m open to taking pictures of other people. That will happen at some point. I’m just having fun doing this for now.

When I started there was way more of a separation between me and the character, but that was a while ago and I don’t refer to that name much anymore. The costumes and caricature elements of it have also calmed down a lot. So it feels less like a character, and more like I’m just improvising with my body inside a space, while sometimes wearing a wig.