We Can’t Look Away From These Images Inspired By Girl Culture

by Becky Brown


At 17, Isabel Magowan left her career as a professional ballerina in search of a new creative outlet.

Years later, complete with a B.A. in History from Wesleyan and an M.F.A. from Yale, she released a photo series, Cygnets, which is heavily influenced by her former life as a performer. 

Rich in elegance and reminiscent of feminist directors Catherine Breillat and Sofia Coppolla, both of whom are famous for encapsulating girl culture and youth, her protagonists are depicted in a similarly effortless blend of upper class suburbia and leisure.

“It’s some weird upper middle class sensibility in terms of the themes that I’m interested in, that does have to do with my upbringing, like vanity, materialism, desire,” says Magowan.

Her formative years of ballet have coupled together Cygnets’ themes of desire, success and beauty with photography, specifically addressing the way young people are pressured to reflect these abstract notions.

“The idea of expectation is important in my work, especially the consequences of becoming increasingly aware of what is expected of you, what you are supposed to do,” says Magowan. 

While most of her subjects are family and friends, Cygnets places her protagonists in locations that are both lavish and familial. A teenage girl sits on a bed almost nude, hunched over her legs among her Beanie Babies. In another photograph, a mother and daughter look out the window, both in pink dresses. The clothing her subjects wear are a combination of already owned and borrowed, which is evident in her photographs of young girls in vintage dresses.

untitled article 1440785223 body image 1440785489

untitled article 1440785223 body image 1440785646

Screen Shot 2016 04 13 at 1.14.25 PM

Screen Shot 2016 04 13 at 1.15.17 PM

Screen Shot 2016 04 13 at 1.16.04 PM

Screen Shot 2016 04 13 at 3.58.25 PM

Screen Shot 2016 04 13 at 3.58.47 PM

Screen Shot 2016 04 13 at 3.59.09 PM

Screen Shot 2016 04 13 at 3.59.28 PM

Screen Shot 2016 04 13 at 3.56.13 PM

In Cygnets, Magowan has created a space where girlhood and womanhood are in dialogue, showcasing the dark expectations of materialism and beauty buried in her dreamlike photographs.

Images via isabelmagowan.com

More from BUST

The Prettiest Go Retro In These Vintage-Inspired Fashion Photos

This Photo Series Celebrates The Beauty Of Black Women

15 Photos Of ’90s Teens In Their Natural Habitat – Their Bedrooms

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter


About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.