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[NSFW] A Photographer's "Filth Factory" Marries S&M and Body Paint

Cameron Amelia calls herself a "professional mess-maker" with a "penchant for sadomasochism."

by DJ Pangburn
Apr 9 2017, 12:10pm

By Cameron Amelia and Garth Elson. Model: Ryan Arm.

After moving to Los Angeles from Cleveland four years ago with a career as a commercial artist in mind, Cameron Amelia had an artistic reality check. This ten-year plan turned out to be wildly demoralizing. With no alternative vision of her future, Amelia decided to indulge every creative whim. This meant combining costume design, photography, makeup, sculpture and performance in what she describes as a "filth factory." Bodies, often partially nude, populate her photographs, but she augments them with surreal combinations of makeup and body paint, which feature other adornments like sculptural headdresses, fish heads, vegetables, masks, vices, and toothbrushes. It's something like the masquerades of Cindy Sherman, Kenneth Anger, and Matthew Barney. So, a lot of gender-bending and transgressive fixation on the flesh, like what one might also see in Arca and Jesse Kanda's gory video for "Reverie."

In one portrait, Amelia reimagines Dr. Seuss's Thing 1 and Thing 2 as "intergalactic ambassadors of a planet made entirely of pink rubber that experiences frequent earthquakes." In another, the artist showcases a leather vagina dentata in a kinky S&M play on old folk tales. These are just a few of the elaborate projects Amelia stages that blur all sorts of boundaries between artistic media and storytelling genres.

All images courtesy the artist

Amelia says that even she struggles to define what she does. She says she doesn't fit neatly in the boxes of photographer, illustrator, or costumer. "I'm primarily a professional mess-maker with a twisted sense of humor and a penchant for sadomasochism," Amelia tells Creators. "For almost every shoot, I hand make all of the costumes and set pieces, do the model's makeup, and am also the photographer and editor. Or sometimes if I'm modeling, a friend will help me out and I'll set everything up and direct them through the process by describing what shot I'd like them to get. My hand is in every part of the process."

'Auto-Erotic Disembowelment': a turning point in Cameron Amelia's work.

Amelia is on a quest to master as many skills as possible. Ideally, she wants to be able to create literally anything that she can conceive of, no matter how spectacular or involved. This ambition recently led her to create a fully articulated leather spinal cord, masks with human teeth, and the aforementioned vagina dentata—all of which appeared in Amelia's performance piece last year at Next Level, which pairs the creators of wearables with performance artists.

"I'm creating work that actively engages with the things that repulse and terrify me," Amelia notes. "I love toeing the line between erotic and unnerving. The conflict of interest between disgust and arousal, things that are beautiful yet fundamentally wrong or unsettling."

As an example of her aesthetic, Amelia uses a horrific crash involving a truck delivering craft supplies to Michael's. In this J. G. Ballard-esque spectacle, people drive by and see fake flowers and glitter scattered amidst hunks of crumpled metal, while gold leafing lies on the guts of corpses.

"The beauty and the spectacle makes it even more grotesque, and you can't decide if it's even okay to enjoy looking at," says Amelia. "I want people to feel uncomfortable when they look at my work."

Apart from this type of spectacle, Amelia often finds herself returning to certain motifs like dangerous queer femme sexuality, consumption and being consumed, the malleability of identity, as well as the deceptiveness of a culture obsessed with aesthetics.

"I've always had a fixation on the Void—the empty vastness of space," Amelia says. "The incomprehensible. I feel very connected to it within myself, and my work usually taps into that abyss. Masochism is implicit in almost everything that I create."

By Cameron Amelia and Garth Elson. Model: Dovelie Lovelie.

And Amelia's ultimate dream is to make a science fiction film. Until then, she will keep working on these multimedia fusions of the grotesque, sadomasochistic, and the bizarre, including the ongoing collaboration with Garth Elson on their high school yearbook series.

"The most critical moment in my creative and personal evolution was when I stopped trying to figure out what I'm doing and just do it," Amelia muses. "Ambiguity is what liberated my vision. Ambiguity is absolute freedom. That period of chaos and uncertainty allowed me to become who I am and opened doors that I didn't even know existed."

By Cameron Amelia and Garth Elson. Model: Tre Smith.

Click here to see more of Cameron Amelia's work.

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