It was not easy being a woman in 1950s America. The ideal was to be a devoted mother, cozy homemaker and obedient wife on heels mopping floors with a radiant smile. And of course dinner would be ready when daddy came home from work. A post-WWII variation on the classic three M’s a woman ‘needs’ to embody: the Virgin Mary, Mother Mary and Maria Magdalena. The seemingly perfect world of “female caricatures” in small town suburbia is the main inspiration for New York-based fine art and fashion photographer Bamby who mixes the theatrical with a hint of irony, Lynch with a touch of Hitchcock.
Dear Bamby, why ‘Bamby’?
My work is very much about playing with identity and I wanted to create a persona expressingthat concept and representing my visual world.
What’s so fascinating about 50s housewives and ditto hairdos?
I'm fascinated by the artifice of 1950’s American culture. If you look back in the pages of Better Homes and Gardens magazine you'll find images of domestic women peeking in ovens or ironing clothes in full skirts with synched waists and pointed bosoms. Their hair is neatly sculpted, with perpetual smiles stamped on their faces and framed with coral lipstick. These two-dimensional female caricatures established the very backwards social mores of the 1950’s. In popular culture, the archetype of the “50’s housewife” comes across as purely superficial and lacks any substance or psyche. In my work I explore that fabricated and shallow notion of femininity, as well as challenge it by imparting these women with a certain power and complexity.
What’s with the flies?
If I had made a camp low budget horror movie in the 1960’s, it would have been about flies attacking people who were rotting away in suburbia.
If you’d been born in the fifties, would you have survived? And what would have become of you?
I don’t know if I would have done well in the fifties. It was such a close-minded time. Maybe I would have become a beatnik and lived in Greenwich Village. Though, I probably would have just moved to a quiet suburban neighborhood and became the town witch.
What movies have inspired your work?
Edward Scissorhands, The Stepford Wives, The Birds and All That Heaven Allows, to name but a few.
How would you define ‘Americana’?
Coca-Cola, Elvis records, apple pies, and that Norman Rockwell painting with the turkey.
Your images feature women only. Not a single man to be found. Why is that?
"I think I'm drawn to female characters partly because they don't have as easy or as obvious a relationship to power in society, and so they suffer under social constraints or have to maneuver in ways within them men sometimes don't, or are unconscious about, or have certain liberties that are invisible to them." - Todd Haynes When I look at many women’s roles in mid-20th century American films they are often so simplistic, and cursed with such a submissive disposition. In my photographs I hope to offer a more powerful portrayal of femininity.
And the Academy Award for Best Cinematography (ever) goes to …
I couldn't possibly choose just one person, but I'm a big fan of Ed Lachman's work.
If not in NYC, where would you like to live?
Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
What did you have for breakfast?
If it has to be fast food for dinner, what/ where would it be?
If you can only take five songs on a 22-hour flight to Sydney, which ones?
Sunday Morning - No Doubt
Ashes to Ashes - David Bowie
Fallin’ - Connie Francis
Help Me, Rhonda - The Beach Boys
Lola - The Kinks.
What is the last photography book or exhibition that blew your mind?
Lunchtime by Charles H. Traub is inspiring.
It’s funny how Traub’s portraits of seemingly ordinary Americans at lunchtime look so alien today. Is that what makes a good photographer: to show what others don’t see?
That’s what I love so much about Traub’s portraits. They capture that sort of beauty rooted in the ordinary that we often overlook. I think that is what makes a good photographer; being able to bring attention to what others don’t notice
Are the eighties the new fifties?
I think there is a definite parallel between the fifties and the eighties. They were both two huge consumer driven decades in America, filled with flashy, poppy, colorful advertising. The American dream of the fifties and eighties was very materialistic. Also, in eighties fashion we saw very fifties silhouettes and styles coming back, except with more garish patterns and shoulder pads.
If not pink what color?
What would be your ultimate dream project in 2016?
I would love to continue examining the American suburb of the 1950's and all of the unhappy homemakers who were trapped within those uniform "white picket fence" communities.