Inspired by a community of women on the internet who sport long, decorative talons on their feet, photographer Amy Lombard made pimped-out toenails her obsession. The 27-year-old intrepid explorer of American subculture and VICE contributor—who's previously trained her lens on baby beauty pageants, sex parties, Juggalos, online/offline communities, Aaron Carter's entourage, and a clown motel—recently teamed up with artist Sonya Meesh and model Amanda Lanzone (who's previously contributed illustrations to VICE) to produce mesmerizing shots of acrylic toenails that are, in a word, long. Pedophobes should note Lombard's warning that the new series, titled Nails Pt. 2, is "certainly an acquired taste."
The shoot pairs exaggerated fake nails with equally opulent backdrops to create a distinct character for each featured pedicure. Meesh decorated Lanzone's toe nails with rhinestones, faux fur, and flashy colors that, at a more normal length, would make for prime Instagram fodder. At several inches each, however, these phalanges would be a better fit for Ripley's Believe It or Not.
The photos are a continuation of her 2015 photo set Nails, which juxtaposed prim nail art with greasy fast food for a series that embodied grime, glamor, and gluttony. At the time of publishing, there are more than 34 million Instagram posts hashtagged #nailart, and celebrity nail artists like Britney Tokyo and Tom Bachik have racked up over 100,000 followers a piece. As Lombard points out, fingernail art is the norm, and she explained that with Nails Pt. 2, "Instead of hands we opted for something you don't see focused on: feet."
While much of Lombard's work is journalistic, Nails Pt. 2 takes toenail art into the realm of unambiguous absurdity. Lombard immersed herself in online forums like longnails.com—which shares women's candy-colored appendages in alluring poses—and the 40,000-photo-strong #longtoenails Instagram hashtag, where users with names like Indyfootaddict72 often leave sexually charged words of appreciation in the comments section. Contributors rarely stray from wearing bikinis, underwear, or tight cocktail dresses, using props like wine glasses, food, black leather, and fishnets to titillate their niche audiences.
"The whole genre of amateur photographs that were the inspiration point is bordering on the fetish level," Lombard says, and what draws her to the most misunderstood segments of society "would take some therapy to unpack. It's certainly not something I've intentionally sought out."
An answer might be gleaned from her confrontational description of Nails Pt. 2: "It's the opposite of what you think when it comes to aspirational lifestyle photography at large, which I fucking hate both as a consumer and photographer," she says. After all, six-inch fake toenails simply are not accessible to anyone who needs to, you know, walk—and Lombard sees the set as an opportunity for artists to elevate the medium to the level of avant-garde sculpture, without being drowned out by the consumer market. But that shouldn't stop anyone from trying to rock the acrylic cocktail fork toenail. "Understatement of the century," Lombard says, "it is a very bold look."
Check out more of Amy Lombard's work on her website.
This article has been updated to reflect Lombard and Lanzone's past contributions to VICE.