To introduce the addition of her stunning monograph, Pheromone Hotbox, to our print selection, we spoke to LA based artist and photographer Amanda Charchian. An incredibly beautiful representation of her work, the book is a collection of artistic nude photography set in landscapes deliberately foreign to her subjects. Curious about her process, we spoke to Amanda about where she draws inspiration, her otherworldly locations, and how being a woman behind the lens affects the way one represents the female body.
Can you introduce yourself and give us a quick rundown of your background?
Hello Kindred Black! I am Amanda and I am an artist and photographer of Iranian-Jewish descent. My favorite book is The Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman. I really love to photograph skin, paint, and have dreams of making furniture. I am a huge lover of cinema, architecture, music, art and fashion. I live with an Italian documentary filmmaker in a beautiful historic house named Grace in the Hollywood Hills. I work on a large red quartz desk in my studio where I am happiest, otherwise I enjoy exploring new countries and cultures.
We’ve read that you initially studied painting and sculpture but now it seems you exclusively focus on photography. What draws you to photography as your medium?
Photography is a unique process because it simultaneously places you in the moment and also out of the moment. It is a means to reflect, analyze and create importance. I have been painting on my photographs recently so I am starting to come full circle!
Where do you draw your influences?
Right now I am very into 70’s Italian design, experimental architecture especially housing projects, I love painters Friedrich Kunath and Henry Taylor. Le Corbusier, Cocteau, Arp, Superstudio, Picasso, Nikki de Saint Phalle, Hilma Af Klint. As far as photography I think Carlo Mollino, Avedon and Weston inform my practice most. David Benjamin Sherry and Viviane Sassen are my favorite contemporary photographers.
There are clearly many beautiful images of naked women shot by men but there are times where we’ve felt conflicted by that – by how the male gaze affects the subject matter (or maybe how we feel about the subject knowing the photographer is male) and we’ve even struggled with the motivations behind certain male photographer’s work in general. How do you think gender affects the gaze and do you think about that in terms of your own work? Is the idea of oversexualizing a subject even an issue for you?
This is something I think about a lot however, the erotic is not always about sex. For me it is about transcendence through the senses. It calls for creativity, passion, imagination, and presentness. Esther Perel has spoken about it at length and I tend to agree with her. Animals have sex in an instinctual primal way but humans do so through socializing sexuality. Pheromone Hotbox is an exploration of that. Because I am not interested in photographing women in a sexual manner, the energy of eroticism is transcended beyond that to shed light on the intricacies of sensuality and the female psyche. I believe that creating imagery with women is a massive gift that requires trust and collaboration. I am not sure I understand the concept of over-sexualization. Why do we need to put a cap on a natural part of our senses. It is a pursuit that motivates most people on Earth. To try to control it is when it becomes perverse and I believe art is a place in which humanity is explored.
That being said, I think the model in question should be part of the conversation as well because it is often overlooked that perhaps she is controlling/informing the image being made to a degree she is comfortable with. In my experience, the woman I am photographing has just as much power as I do, if not more. I think the male gaze is just as interesting as the female gaze though I am happy that we are shifting the balance and equalizing now.
Pheromone Hotbox is such a beautifully presented monograph – the paper, the design, the flow of images – and it has a strong, almost cinematic mood running throughout. When setting out on a new body of work, do you already have a project in mind or is it more fluid process that comes together at the end?
Thank you so much! Brian Roettinger designed it and he is a genius. I am working on a new monograph now centered around architecture and mixed media work. I tend to use my fine art practice as a way to explore, discover and question the world around me so it starts in a fluid manner and then the project becomes clear over time. It is important for me to have an element of biography and be a reflection of where I am in life.
You find such otherworldly locations to shoot – how important is the environment to your process?
It is imperative that the location inspires!
There is a very graceful transition between your commercial, editorial, and personal projects. Do you approach them differently and are you conscious of a desire to put your signature on them or is this something that happens organically?
Wow, that is very kind. I do believe it happens organically as my current inspirations and approach tend to apply at every shoot.
And finally, our super important (puff) beauty question! Do you have any unusual beauty or skincare secrets you’re willing to share?
Honestly, I am so blessed to have amazing friends that make incredible organic skincare. I am LOVING the Kindred Black Slow Skincare. It’s so luxurious in its simplicity. I love the Prickly Pear.
My friend Jena has an organic and incredibly effective line called Agent Nateur which has natural deodorant that actually works, Holi oil serum for the face and one for the body. She also just introduced an amazing toner that I like to mix with the Vitamin C powder. She has everything made in Europe with the highest quality organic ingredients and really develops all of her new products alone in a room at Hotel Costes which I find very romantic of her. My other friend Nick has a line called Necessaire which makes body washes, lotion and sex gel that is super clean and smells amazing. I also am a devotee of Biologique Recherche!
All photographs courtesy of Amanda Charchian. See more of her work here. And follow along on Instagram @amanda_charchian.