This essay originally appeared in the Privacy & Perception Issue of Vice Magazine, created in collaboration with Broadly. You can read more stories from the issue here.
“Modern Romance” is the collective effort of Sophia Wilson, Jessica Pettway, Tiffany Smith, and Ziggy Mack-Johnson to highlight underrepresented relationships in mainstream media. (Wilson shot the photographs; Pettway designed the props; Smith did the lighting; and Mack-Johnson styled all the clothes, as well as curated the whole effort.) In short, this project presents a challenge to the publishing and fashion industry, two particular parts of culture that, they think, have incredible power influencing how people think. Their perspective is a simple one: that men and women “should have the freedom to dress and behave however they feel comfortable, without being categorized by gender.”
“In this series,” they say, “you will see the result of combining the themes of gender-fluidity and boundary-less romantic relationships in an ethereal way that has never been seen before.” Set against fluorescent backgrounds, their images force you to stare at them. Balloons, which are strewn throughout many of the pictures, lend to this notion as well: They want you to see their subjects as something to be celebrated. There’s a woman straddling a man’s back. There’s another woman, who appears to be in some sort of trance, lying on top of a man. There’s a guy goofily eating a banana.
The hope, as Mack-Johnson says, is for you to “understand that you are in charge of your own identity—that you should never care about what others think, because when it’s all said and done, you are the only one to answer for your life.”