Disturbing Portraits Of Modern Womanhood Hit Painful and Humorous Notes

by Brenda Pitt

Popcorn Venus, 2012. Joyce II.

When you think of women photographers who work in self-portraiture, you probably think of Cindy Sherman. The artist has made a career of transforming herself into everything from a bleached blonde spray-tanned socialite to Mae West. Her impressive body of work is such that she appears to be everywhere, capable of metamorphosing into anyone she chooses. 


It’s almost impossible to work in self portraiture without being compared to Sherman, and the young and brilliant photographer Juno Calypso often is. Calypso dresses herself as Joyce, an imaginary woman who embodies the pressures that surround modern women. She constructs intricate scenes from Joyce’s daily life, participating in ritualistic behaviors associated with beauty and expectations of stereotypical femininity. She works at a tedious desk job surrounded by framed portraits of her kids; she wears a face mask and bakes a cake. 


12 Reasons You’re Tired All The Time, 2013. Joyce II.


What stands out about Calypso’s work is that she and Joyce, and by extension womankind, are forced into prescribed roles: secretary, mother, beauty queen. And Joyce is not happy about it; as Calypso puts it, she’s repressed and “[exhausted… at] bearing the dead weight of constructed femininity.” Unlike the work of Sherman, these portraits don’t make their female subject an elusive chameleon capable of inhabiting whatever body and lifestyle she chooses, but instead they confine her to a repetitive, suffocated expression of womanhood, one that is colored both with painful boredom and with a sort of tongue-in-cheek humor. Particularly amusing are the images that playfully expose the cable release, revealing that Calypso is only playing the part for the camera. 


Artificial Sweetener, 2012. Joyce II. 


Whether she is at home or at work, Joyce suffers from a modern version of Betty Friedan’s “feminine mystique,” a term used in the 1960s to explain the patriarchal myth that all women could be fulfilled within the so-called “female sphere” (i.e. the home). In Calypso’s work, the feminine mystique is revealed to be alive and well, and Joyce can no longer escape it simply by leaving the house: idealized femininity defines and restricts every facet of her life. Whether Joyce sits in the office or in her own bedroom, self-actualization tragically alludes her. Check out more of Calypso’s amazing work here


Reconstituted Meat Slices, 2013. Joyce II.

Reconstituted Meat Slices, 2013. Joyce II.

Massage, 2011. Joyce I.

Agency, 2011. Joyce I.

Thanks to It’s Nice That and Feature Shoot

Images via Feature Shoot

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