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Photographer Laurence Philomene recalls getting her first camera at five years old: “It was a Rugrats themed, point-and-shoot 35mm. I even remember all the images I shot on my first roll of film”. Since then, a camera has never been far from her reach. Growing up, Philomene used photography as a way of documenting her life and as “a bit of an escape, I would create these fairy tale set-ups in my room to take pictures”.

At the age of twenty-two, the Montreal-based artist already has an impressive array of projects under her belt, and has been exhibited in New York, Tokyo and London. She cites the internet as a vital factor in her development as an artist, here she discovered a community of fellow young artists: “we all kind of grew up together through our photography. Years later, that community is still a huge support and source of inspiration to me”.

 

Laurence Philomene Graeme as me
‘Graeme as me’ from ‘Me vs Others’, 2016

Philomene’s work touches upon the themes of identity, femininity and friendship, explored through a hazy, dreamlike aesthetic. Colour takes centre stage (to a certain extent it is more important to me than subject or composition”) and her images are dominated by pinks and pastels. She explores the effects that different colours have on a viewer’s interpretation of an image, as well as addressing the dynamics and historical gendering of colour.

We spoke to her about the role of hair in her ongoing series, ‘Me vs Others’, in which she photographs other people dressed to resemble her.

Laurence Philomene Graeme as me from ‘me VS others’
‘Graeme as me’ from ‘Me vs Others’, 2016

Can you tell us about ‘Me vs Others’ ?
The original idea behind this series was two-fold; I wanted to be able to take self-portraits without actually having to use my own body, as well as exploring what physical items I associated with ‘me’. At times I’ve done this in a very literal way, hiding the faces of my models and pretending that the image is really a photo of me. Other times I’ve incorporated elements of the people I’m photographing into the image, blending their identity with mine. The series also serves as a way to project this idealised view of myself, of who and where I would want to be (superficially) in a perfect world.

Laurence Philomene Graeme as me
‘Graeme as me’ from ‘Me vs Others’, 2016

In this series, the main signifier used to resemble you is the orange wig. What does your hair mean to you?
I’ve dyed my hair since I was eleven, perhaps to control my appearance in a way that doesn’t feel too destructive. I had long, bright blue hair in college, at that time my hair was an important part of my identity, as someone who had just come out as queer, it marked me as ‘different’. The orange hair came about after I graduated, I wanted something that felt more authentically like me. My hair has always been an important feature of my self-portraiture. In my photography I used it as a signifier of ‘me’, which translated into the use of the orange wig in this series.

I currently have some work in an exhibition, that aims to reframe aspects of late 17th century Rococo and Baroque aesthetics. It’s made me think about the use of the wig in my work within a historical context, redefining this idealised self through hair. I’m also fascinated by Victorian hair practices, such as hair lockets and bracelets; there’s such an emotional relationship to a given person’s hair, whether that person was your lover or your deceased mother.

Laurence Philomene 2016
‘Graeme as me’ from ‘Me vs Others’ , 2016
Laurence Philomene Feminine Identities
Feminine Identities, 2012
“My work seeks to reverse the traditional view of the feminine as ‘other’, by creating an entirely feminine space.
In this context, masculinity is no longer the accepted neutral”
Laurence Philomene
Laurence Philomene Winter Break
Winter Break (Self), 2012
Laurence Philomene winter break 2012
Winter Break (Self), 2012

How does your work comment on traditional ideals and expectations of masculinity and femininity?
Expectations based on gender vary so much through time and place, so I don’t think anyone can ever fully define what ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ mean in a globalised context. A lot of my work does explore gender identity, but generally my goal is not to ‘shock’ people by showing subversive images, because I don’t think there’s anything inherently radical about a man in a dress, for example.

My work seeks to reverse the traditional view of the feminine as ‘other’ (as defined by Simone de Beauvoir), by creating an entirely feminine space. In this context, masculinity is no longer the accepted neutral. By photographing boys in a feminine way, for example, I try to reverse those dynamics by creating a scenario in which femininity is neutral and masculinity becomes ‘other’.

How would you sum up your work in 3 words?
Colourful, soothing, and personal. 

Laurence Philomene Sugar High 2013
Sugar High, 2013
Laurence Philomene Sugar High 2013
Sugar High, 2013
Credits

Laurence Philomene is the co-founder of The Coven, a feminist collective
which creates and supports the work of emerging women and non-binary artists.

Interview Emma de Clercq
Images Laurence Philomene Website

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