Prue Stent is 21 and only a few months out of college, but she's recently developed a massive online following, especially among young women, for her surreal, dreamy, and strangely gruesome photos of girls in bubblegum landscapes. Her work has started a conversation about the inversions around gender, beauty, and youth—but it's a conversation that the young artist doesn't always consciously lead. We spoke to the photographer about her artistic development and growing following.
VICE: You're only 21, yet your work feels very fully-formed.
Prue Stent: Photos always been something I've been interested in. It started with those little party cameras in [eighth grade.] I would buy hundreds of them and photograph everything I saw. My mom said as a kid she would find me looking through family photo albums and just crying, even though it wasn't anyone I knew. I guess it was an emotional thing.
There is a strong theme of gender and gender inversion in your photos, was that always an interest of yours?
That's been more recent, my photography has been more of a natural thing. As I thought more about why I was doing it and why I was driven to take photos all the time that started to become more important. It's more subconscious—I still struggle to really articulate what I'm trying to say. Sometimes I over-contextualize it and look into it too much.
Your work has got a lot of attention as being connected to feminism, are those associations always helpful?
It's definitely a trendy thing; I think my work kind of goes a bit past that, it's not just focused on that. I guess there's something weird about it, and people are drawn to it for reasons other than feminism.
Why do you think they're drawn to it?
I think it's something familiar that meets something really weird and confronting. It's kind of subverting your typical familiarity of something beautiful into something weird.
Are you ever surprised as to how people respond to your work?
Yeah, I don't personally find my work confronting, but that might be the circle of friends I'm in. We're all really open with each other and we all talk about those kinds of things. But with Instagram and the internet I get some really strange comments. Some people like it, but other people are like, "Why is this art? This is just weird and gross."
What are people reacting against?
I'm not really sure what you would think of this, but I get criticized for not photographing women of color a lot, which I find interesting. I guess the reason is that I'm photographing myself, and my sister, and my best friend Honey, so it's just three of the closest people to me. People are quite offended by it and have been like, I'm not following you anymore because you refuse to acknowledge women of color . Which is something I never have thought about with my own work.
Speaking of Honey Long, she's also a visual artist and you work together a lot. Is she a big influence?
Yeah, hugely. She brings so much into it, her contribution is so important—as with all my close girlfriends I collaborate with. I couldn't do it without them, really. Honey does sculpture so for her it's about using the female form as a sculpture and then bringing it into a certain environment and manipulating it. It all changes and I don't really know what we're actually going to do, but it's definitely important to how and what I photograph.
What are you finding yourself drawn to now?
I guess I'm drawn to trying to create kind of alternate beauty that people aren't really familiar with. And I don't know if that makes sense yet.
Words by Wendy Syfret. Follow her on Twitter