Photographer Juno Calypso Confronts Beauty Ideals with Quirky Alter-Ego

London-based photographer Juno Calypso is gracing the world stage with her alter-ego Joyce, a comedic yet poignant caricature of social constructions of female beauty.

The Champagne Suite, 2015


Walking into a Pennsylvania honeymoon hotel, one would expect to see velvet lounges, embroidered curtains and blissful couples. And indeed, that’s what one does see – young couple after young couple, fawning over each other, ready to start a life together, acting out the story of happiness and American dreams.

And then there’s the other side of the story. There’s the side we all know about but oddly shy away from discussing. There’s Joyce, a young woman who is cracking under the pressure to be beautiful, desirable and above all things packageable. Joyce is a character created by London-based photographer Juno Calypso, and she comes to life in honeymoon suites, grandparents’ houses and rented bedrooms. Joyce sits alone in a heart-shaped bathtub in Pennsylvania for Calypso’s latest series, Joyce II.

Untitled (Whirlpool), 2015


Calypso’s work is characterised by kitsch settings, pink lace, eery masks, dark humour and messages that leave an impact. Her images of Joyce are simultaneously funny and confronting. We all know this girl. Many of us are this girl. In Joyce I we see her as a receptionist, an airport officer and an agency clerk. She cycles through moods like she cycles through roles, wigs and shades of nail polish.

12 Reasons You’re Tired All the Time, 2015


In Joyce II the images get a little scarier, though they still showcase Calypso’s wry sense of humour. We see Joyce’s green, seaweed-wrapped hand on the edge of a glossy pink bathtub, like a monster climbing out. Then we see Joyce lying face down on a kitchen floor with an opened but uneaten can of processed meat just inches away from her.

Chicken Dogs, 2015


Calypso draws an interesting parallel between the way society regards women and the way society regards food. In an interview with Broadly she states:

“Food always seemed to come up in my work subconsciously. I just loved the texture—sticky, sweet, phallic sausages and stale sandwiches. Then I started to draw the similarities between women and food. The way we photograph women and the way we photograph food. Or the way both women and food are pumped and plumped with preservatives to keep them from natural decay.”

Popcorn Venus, 2012


The parallel is made especially clear in Popcorn Venus, where Joyce emerges from a wedding cake in bright lipstick and a clam-shell bra. The table is laden with finger food and alcohol, while Joyce and the cake take centre stage as one entity, sweetened and ready for consumption. Joyce stares straight at the camera with lowered eyelids, seductive but bored. On Calypso’s website she states:

“Joyce appears alone, consumed by artifice. Objects once perceived as radical, fun or nutritious have become joyless and oppressive.”

A Dream in Green, 2015


The wearisome nature of beauty routines is something that inspires Calypso’s work. The title of the photograph 12 Reasons You’re Always Tired is from a magazine heading. Calypso says on the matter:

“I felt like maybe there were deeper issues exhausting us. Like, we’re treating the symptoms for our tiredness, but not the cause of it.”

We can see snippets of Joyce’s routine in the short film, The Making of Joyce. The character is frumpily endearing as she goes about her daily life, pausing to pose for the camera and adjust her appearance. The soundtrack is a cheerful pop song reminiscent of 1980s Hollywood rom-coms. But the video has a remote sense of sadness to it – highlighted when we see Joyce-as-a-receptionist staring lackadaisically into space and pink-clad Joyce hiding her face in a massage pillow.

Film is something that heavily influences Calypso. In an interview with We-Heart she explains:

“I watch lot of films before making work. I’ll usually spend the whole film manically grabbing screenshots on my computer and then I’ll draft ideas for scenes from there.”

She lists Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick as frequent sources of inspiration.

Massage Mask, 2015


At the heart of Calypso’s work is a keen awareness of the odd pressures placed on women in our society – the push and pull to be ourselves, yet fit the mould. She notes:

“I think the modern woman knows exactly what’s going on. We know it’s all absurd, but it’s difficult to escape from it.”

Joyce is the impersonation of that inner conflict. Calypso acknowledges that for her, Joyce is incredibly close to home.

Slendertone II, 2015


Joyce is funny because she’s surprising yet relatable – and in the spirit of Charlie Chaplin, her life is a tragedy up close but a comedy at a distance. In an interview with Dazed Calypso notes:

“Tragic comedy is my favourite type of comedy – it makes life a lot easier to cope with. I don’t think Joyce has given up but she’s definitely on the verge and that’s an interesting point to focus on.”

That could arguably be a beneficial point of focus for all of us, in the sense that as a society we always seem to be on the verge – on the verge of addressing the damaging rules of female beauty, on the verge of change, on the verge of slipping into neurosis. In our cynical age it’s often tragic comedy that sustains us, perhaps because it’s uplifting yet honest.

The First Night, 2015


Juno Calypso and Joyce have definitely attracted attention. In 2012 Calypso was awarded both the Michael Wilson Award and the LCC Hotshoe Portfolio Award.  In 2013 she was the Visitor Vote Winner for the Catlin Art Prize. Since then she’s exhibited in London, Miami, Switzerland, Mexico, New York and South Korea.

One mightn’t guess it from the raging success of Joyce, but the character came into being almost accidentally. Calypso started out by taking photographs of other women. She explains what initially inspired the idea of Joyce in an interview with Cultivating Culture:

“I would use myself to test out the shot first, but pull funny faces to make it less awkward. Then when I presented these test pictures to my new class at university a few years ago I saw them laugh and that was it. Laughter became more important that trying to shock them with sex or beauty.”

At just twenty-six, Calypso is clearly a photographer with a bright future ahead of her. Her most recent triumph is an exhibit at the New York Photo Festival, where she’s a finalist in the Last Picture Show for Fine Art.

All images © Juno Calypso.