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Amanda Charchian celebrates the female nude in her new book, Pheromone Hotbox. From 2012 to 2015 the LA-based photographer traveled the world, shooting women in Iceland, Cuba, Israel, Morocco and more. The resulting portraits that make up the monograph are sensual for sure but, shot from a distinctly feminine viewpoint, there's no sense of vulnerability. Instead, freedom and empowerment. We caught up with the artist about the male gaze, what happens when a woman's behind the lens, and walking naked through New Mexico caves.
The Creators Project: How did the project come about and why did you decide to make a book?
Amanda Charchian: This exact week in March four years ago, I went on a trip to Costa Rica with two friends. I began photographing them a bit excessively as if there was a puzzle to decipher. By delving into the tension I started to understand that what I was experiencing was exclusive to one female photographing another intimately, in a setting that felt wild both within our mindset and also circumstance. For women, the energy of artistic production and sexuality is inextricably linked—most often on a subconscious level. This is what I call "the pheromone hotbox," a space in which a biologically confounded process occurs as our pheromones interact (in a nonsexual way) to generate creativity through simultaneous trust and mischievousness. I discovered that through the camera I had unique access to the creative women around me. This newfound mode of intimate photographic investigation grew into a project in its own right. As the next four years took me around the world, I sculpted the dimensions of the Pheromone Hotbox.
The cover reminds me of an '80s house and garden book that you'd find thrifting. Was this an influence or am I way off here?
The designer of the book, Brian Roettinger, is absolutely incredible. He had many more interesting versions of the cover but in the end I wanted it to have the biggest image possible. I thought it looked like a vintage Architectural Digest, so you're not off!
Would you say that you're actively looking to subvert the male gaze with your work in this book?
My intention was never to subvert the male gaze, though I think the images do that as a byproduct of focusing on female empowerment. Generally I am not a reactionary person, but prefer to focus on creating the world I want to live in.
What do you think a woman can achieve shooting another woman that a man behind the lens might not be able to?
I find that—especially when working in the male-dominated industry of fashion photography and historically nude photography—women have trust when working with women, devoid of a predatory factor. In my experience there is an automatic sense of camaraderie and girl-ganghood when photographing women on these adventures; vulnerability becomes a point of strength. The imagery in the book is a study in what happens when women create together, uninhibited and without the male gaze.
How did you source your subjects? Were they friends, fellow artists, models?
All the women I photographed in the book are artists: poets, painters, fashion designers, filmmakers, actresses, etc. I have been lucky to be plugged into a network of amazing women, mostly very close friends of mine. Part of my intention with the book is that people will look at their work as well.
Was there anywhere you journeyed that surprised you in regards to views about nudity or sexuality?
The sense of shock when seeing a nude person in public is the same internationally. However, the bigger surprise came when we invented ways to get away with it. When we shot in Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, I had to apply for a permit to rent it out after-hours. I'd arrived from NYC after driving eight hours from the airport with two artists I had just met and had been trying to scheme ways we would be able to shoot nudes in there, knowing that it was against the state park rules. I had the foresight to ask for a female guard to take us around, and bought all these fabrics to drape around them [the models] that they would accidentally "drop." We looked at the full moon above us, and I remember praying that we would get away with it. After taking the 50-story elevator down, the guard turned to me and said, "I have seen your photography. I really like it." After that, I had a new sense of confidence. We started the shoot without any of the premeditated cautionary robes; walking in the nude freely through the dwarfing stalactite caves. That was an amazing moment.
The Deluxe Edition of the book includes a limited edition scent inspired by the publication—that's such a great idea.
HOTBOX Eau de Parfum is a collaboration between SANAE Intoxicants and I. She sourced natural oils from all around the world, inspired by the international locations in the book. I imagine it as what the smell of the hotbox smells like; a sudoric feminine honey.
You can pre-order Pheromone Hotbox here, and check out some more images from the publication below:
This article originally appeared on The Creators Project Australia.