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ART + CULTURE: Meet Parker Day’s strange and sublime icons 

Images: Parker Day
Interview: Emma de Clercq

The technicolour characters that form Parker Day’s series ICONS are anything but ordinary. Shot on 35mm, each image in the 100-portrait series has been meticulously constructed by the LA-based photographer, who cites the work of John Waters and David Lynch as inspirations.

Day’s father owned a comic book store specialising in underground comics, the influence of which is visible in her highly stylised photographs of oddball characters. ICONS explores the way in which we construct our own image when presenting ourselves to others, and whether this has the effect we intend. Do others see us as we want them to? Most of Day’s models are internet personalities whose unfiltered online personas have gained them dedicated followings, thereby rendering them modern day ‘icons’. Day builds on this idea, blending the existing ‘brand’ of her subjects with elements of fantasy, Hammer horror and twisted Hollywood archetypes. The resulting characters are somewhere between reality and fiction, with added kink and gore.

Day’s choice to leave the images un-retouched further highlights the extreme artifice of each look, revealing the layered creation of ‘second skins’ crafted through hair, make-up, body modification and props. “Artifice is an interesting word,” Day says, “those of us who have deliberately crafted how we present our bodies to the world know that it feels more right and authentic than just existing as we were born. So, I wonder how that’s seen by others? Is our crafting of self-presentation seen as trickery? Or felt as authentic? What determines either?” We spoke to Day about this weird and wonderful series.

What makes each of these fictionalised characters ‘iconic’ in your eyes? They’re powerful! I see strength and solidity in them. And beyond that, an icon is representative of something – an idea, a concept – and I think there’s a lot of symbolism in how they’re portrayed which can be felt.

Your icons are shot exclusively on 35mm and are entirely unretouched. What is the significance of this? It says this is real! This really happened! But of course it still feels fantastical. And the grit and grain and tiny specks of dust make it feel rougher, darker, like something buried. I want to get you on that knife’s edge between reality and its dissolution. 

How much of each character is fiction and how much is reality? Who’s to say! Our realities are made up of fictions; stories our parents told us about who we were, beliefs instilled by society and our own ideas and conceptions about who we are in relation to the ‘outer’ world. For this series, there’s a lot of mixing and matching between my ideas and the subject’s ideas. The dominance of ‘reality’ and ‘fantasy’ varies from shoot to shoot. I’m interested in the fuzzy dissociative feeling where reality gives way to fantasy and vice versa. 

Do you identify with these icons? If so, how? When I was in high school I had my first photography class. My final project was to be a series of black and white portraits I printed of my friends. When I laid out all of my prints on my living room floor to edit through them, I realised there was a similarity among them. They all expressed the same haunting, morose angst that I felt (typical teen, right?) but that moment shook me! I saw that my photos were a reflection of myself. I didn’t like what I saw then and it scared me. Now, I see myself in these ICONS and it feels good, it feels right.

Out of your 100 portraits, which character expresses themselves most strongly through their hair? Ooooh there’s a couple! Either Ernie Omega in H8 who wears a black rubber flat top wig or Alex H. in Classic White who has the top of their head shaved, with hair cascading down around it. I used to be a hairdresser and went to cosmetology school so hair is something I’m always looking at. 

What is the one thing you hope the viewer will take away from ICONSBe bold, my friends, be fearless. Let your freaky heart run free. 

“Be bold, my friends, be fearless. Let your freaky heart run free”
Parker Day
  • ANTHROPOLOGY OF HAIR
  • ANTHROPOLOGY OF HAIR
  • ANTHROPOLOGY OF HAIR
  • ANTHROPOLOGY OF HAIR
  • ANTHROPOLOGY OF HAIR