When Amanda Charchian was travelling during the Spring of 2012 with two artist friends, she found herself confronting new themes of femininity and sensuality by taking a series of nude photographs. The images she took toyed with adrenaline, challenged post-feminist ideologies and would send the subject to a foreign place – and now, four years later, her new book is a celebration of those images.
Along with a collection of 28 other creative voices, Amanda’s inaugural book documents modern femininity in its rarest form. ‘Pheromone Hotbox’ (a name which she first derived from the idea of ‘hotboxing’ a car), explores the immersive intimacy between herself and her subjects. When the book’s journey first inaugurated four years ago, LA-based Amanda seesawed between continents (Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Asia and China are just some of the book’s wide-spread locations), and began to carefully tiptoe around sexuality and creativity. “I realise that the Hotbox is just a state of mind in which being fully present and empathetic to let the full power of your creativity unleash,” she says. Here we talk to Amanda about her inspiration for the book and what it’s really like to photograph women on an intimate level.
Lisa Walden: A documentation of modern femininity, what was it that made you start this project?
Amanda Charchian: It was in March 2012, I was travelling with two artists that I admire and through photographing them I discovered a mysterious aspect of them I hadn’t noticed before. The beauty of these two young women was at once of their exterior, but also came from an immense internal power, that I then realised was from the power of being an uninhibited creator. 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 but also circumstance.
AC: The “Pheromone Hotbox” is a space where a biologically confounded process occurs in which 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 three years took me around the world, I sculpted the dimensions of the “Pheromone Hotbox.”
“The name of the book began with a bit of humour coming from the idea of “hotboxing” a car.”
I applied that idea to the immersive intimacy between my subject and I when we are creating these images. Because we were shooting nudes in public landscapes, there was usually a heightened sense of connectivity and closeness. Pheromones are signalling chemicals that trigger social responses and impact the behaviour of recipients within the “hotbox”.
LW: You almost feel like you’re on a journey with the models in all the different locations. What made you choose these specific locations?
AC: The landscape was an important element for creating the images. I am always in awe of the fact that natural formations have been made by elements of chance and happenstance. It appeals to the surrealist part of me that appreciates chaos.
The project required three precepts for creating the work:
1. A surreal landscape found in advance serving as a backdrop for improvisation. Thus the images became an imprint of discovery, a reaction to the time, space and subject.
2. The second construct was that the subject be a female contemporary artist and be foreign to the place — a Sri Lankan actress in Cuba, a Serbian furniture designer in Costa Rica, a Chilean painter in Corsica.
3. The act of undressing was a third integral variable in the process, providing adrenaline and risk.
LW: What’s your favourite image from the book?
AC: I definitely don’t have one favourite but one of my favourites is of India Menuez in Woodstock, NY. There was a heavy autumn rainstorm as we drove through the forest. It stopped for just a few minutes so we ran outside the car and shot one roll of film. I asked her to wrap her hair around the tree trunk and now it’s one of my most iconic images. It was absolutely a product of reaction and intuition that I couldn’t have planned better.
LW: The book harbours a collection of creative voices- what was it that made you want to work with artists like Lou Doillon and Ana Kras?
AC: The book features 28 female contemporary artists. All the artists in the book are friends of mine and women I admire. One of the biggest blessings in my life has been the female friendships I have with absolutely amazing women who are fearless in their life and work. Who aren’t hindered by the expectations that society has on them. Their presence has been the most impactful on my life and this book is a love letter to all of them.
LW: I heard that there was no plan for the imagery other than they all had to be shot nude. What was it that made you want to embrace such freedom when it came to creating Pheromone Hotbox?
AC: I have always been interested in the tradition of the nude in art history. I like working within a lineage but also empowering women instead of exploiting. All the women in the book are artists with their own creative voices.
LW: What has this project taught you about femininity and female empowerment?
AC: I realise that the Hotbox is just a state of mind in which being fully present and empathetic to let the full power of your creativity unleash.
LW: Any other plans lined up now that the book is released?
AC: Pheromone Hotbox will have a few launch parties and exhibition in a few different cities. I am also focusing on shooting fashion now for the next few months as I am really excited about it right now.
‘Pheromone Hotbox’ by Amanda Charchian is available here.
Follow Lisa Walden on Twitter @Lisagracewalden