Stylised Realism & Coaxing Emotion
Finding beauty in the ordinary, photographer Jannica Honey exposes images that rest somewhere between art and fashion.
Jannica Honey (b. 1974) is an artist of her time. In an age where contemporary art reaches out to all, where galleries attract audiences of millions each year, and where works span genres with accelerating frequency, Honey embraces multiplicity and defies categorisation. Like Mario Testino, Richard Avedon and Corinne Day before her, the photographs that Honey creates rest somewhere between art and fashion, with a healthy dose of the realism of Richard Billingham and Nan Goldin thrown in for good measure.
At the heart of Honey’s work is an interest in people, in the sociological representation of her subject through the camera’s lens, an interest that reveals her early educational choices of Anthropology and Criminology at university in Stockholm. Honey aims to show people in their natural element, not in a naturalistic, back to nature manner, but in an amalgamation of the trappings of consumer society. Heavily made-up pre-pubescent girls sulk at the camera, teenagers show off their latest “vintage-look” purchases amongst graffiti-lined corridors and women pose with scarlet lips and bunny ears illustrating the bastardisation of our pre-conceived notions of sexuality. Visit her website and Honey’s artist statement will confess her aim “is to create real images. I attempt to expose what is going on deep within the psyche of my subjects. My photographs are of authentic people with their emotional and physical baggage exposed.” In a manner apt for an art world ruled by people following Hirst and Emin, Honey’s work is about exposure of the subject to the lens, and a reflection of the insecurities that manifests.
Since photography began to be taken seriously as an artistic medium, the canon of artist photographers is continuously growing, and it remains one of the most diverse disciplines – from the anthropology of Steve McCurry, to the playful inquisitiveness of Danny Lyon, via the incandescent gloss of Rankin, each photographer borrows from an ideology, yet manages to maintain an inherent personality in their work. Arguably, the medium reached its peak in the 1990s, before digitisation and citizen journalism made the contemplation of selective editing, and sheer journalistic opportunism available to all.
Today, photography seems to have experienced a curious evolution – alongside the music industry, professional photography is in an awkward position, unclear of where to assert its boundaries in a landscape where amateurs’ work is increasingly professional. Finding herself in this uneasy situation, Honey cites the discovery of Nan Goldin as being of particular importance in her career: “I went to a Nan Goldin opening in the late 1990s, which might possibly have been a milestone. Her imagery is so incredible sensitive and raw. She captures her subjects in their most intimate and bearing situations, but she never exposes them. The images whisper about humanity, strengths and weaknesses, in the most delicate way.” Honey is passionate about images in a manner that’s refreshing; especially in an industry where Goldsmiths’ graduates receive as much coaching in business as they do in art, where Damien Hirst talks about money as much as he talks about technique. “Jurgen Teller is another astonishing photographer. My absolute favourite image is of him, naked with a beer can in his hand, by his father’s grave. And Corinne Day shooting her friend; that’s where you find the true beauty, in the most ordinary day to day events.”
Swedish-born Honey moved to Edinburgh to study photography and digital imaging and gradually fell in love with her new-found medium, describing the transformation and development of images in the darkroom as, “close to a religious experience.” Her initial exhibition in 2000 embraced the opportunism of Edinburgh nightlife. Collaboration of Clubbing took the viewer on a tour of the city’s nocturnal activity, “My photography evolved from there, meetings with people and happenings unfolded.”
Nan Goldin, as a repeatedly rehabilitated drug addict, photographed the true fringes of society – the drag queens, AIDS victims and hard drug users at a time when compassion and understanding for these subcultures was limited. Honey’s exploration of Edinburgh’s nocturnal activity touches upon a decidedly safer aspect of life. Conscious of a growing immunity to shock, Honey takes her photography in a different direction. No doubt, the average art gallery attendee will identify far more with Honey’s clubbers than with Goldin’s battered and visibly mortal friends.
Furthermore, the past few decades in the art world have seen a raft of confessional narratives, which have spilled over into the popular culture of Big Brother, Jeremy Kyle, and deeply personal but nationally televised celebrity interviews on recent miscarriages and marriage breakdowns, Honey seems to tactfully reserve a part of herself from her work. It’s become a cliché to be a female artist and to put yourself in your work, from Tracey Emin to Sophie Calle, the wrong-doing towards women by misogynistic boyfriends (or attackers) is the source of endless pre-occupation and so Honey’s work is refreshingly removed. While Honey argues: “I think that a great deal of my images translate into something revealing about myself,” she also acknowledges, “I always try to involve my subject. When I work together with my subjects, I produce the most exciting and beautiful work. I really struggle when my subjects are distant or I don’t feel any connection. I guess that also reveals something about me.” Honey’s work represents a new conservatism, a reticence to reveal all that is refreshing in our tell-all age.
In citing her inspirations, authenticity and ordinariness are paramount, but there are clear parallels with fashion photography. Honey has worked extensively on fashion shoots across the UK, including work for Che Camille and Super Fertile. She admits: “I am attracted to the fashion world and at the same time, I loathe it.” Honey aims to “encourage the model to uncover and bare something deep and honest, instead of shielding oneself with a mask or playing a role.” The young, anti-glamour lifestyle of Corinne Day is reflected in Honey’s work, particularly the very pared down, grunge aesthetic of the 1990s. Similarly to Mario Sorrentti’s images of a young Kate Moss, Honey’s nudity is de-sexualised, her subjects slouch with teenage disinterest, breasts on show as a matter of fact rather than as a tool for seduction. But the authenticity of this tense relationship is absent – Moss and Sorrentti famously shot the Obsession campaign at the apex of their infatuation, the Calvin Klein adverts outliving the relationship in a way that added to the poignancy and fallibility in the images that became a legacy for grungy, anti-fashion. These aspects of the crossover of fashion and lifestyle photography are particularly inspirational to Honey, “I find people the most attractive when they are bare. When they are a true representation of themselves or translate a message I want to disclose. Children do smoke, for example. Women do have hair in their armpits and bruises.” In this manner, Honey creates a very subtle social interrogation. Shying away from critique, she presents her subjects as she would like us to see them, and allows the viewer to draw conclusions on both the sitter and herself from her own brand of “styled realism.” Although fashion photography is important, she rejects the glossy, high-definition, vision of reality that graces the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair. Honey styles her shoots to coax the emotion out of her sitters: “I think that through supporting my models and giving them direction they relax and fully trust me. This is essential for my photography. By “real” I mean a real emotion, my aspiration is to tell a story with my images. A long story based on a gaze and expression. Unfolding over a mesmerising body with wrinkles pointing the direction of the narrative.” Contextualised in this way, Honey’s images are captivating, especially when we acknowledge that she shoots, “only people I connect with. Family friends or people who become my friends through modelling for me.” Because of this, the works take on a further authenticity: “There has to be some kind of attraction for me to be interested. I have never photographed a person I didn’t have any feelings for.”
In this instance, it’s significant that Honey’s subjects are beautifully lit, with sharp bright colours, and although their features are idiosyncratic, they are clear-skinned and young with shiny hair. Honey readily acknowledges: “I’m not sure if anyone can portray an honest view of humanity, but I tend to ‘fall’ for intriguing people.” After all, we are attracted to youth, which explains its proliferation in fashion and advertising, and Honey is no exception. It’s clear that fashion photography is central to her work, as something to rebel against as well as take inspiration from, like an off-duty model pose, she retains the beauty and mystique in a way that gives away just enough for us to identify with our own lives, but want to learn more about the aesthetically advantageous alternatives. By posing children with cigarettes, and focusing on the bruised legs of a female gardener, Honey calls our bluff with a new brand of “staged shock.”
In a manner her works are inauthentic, but art is also about artifice as well as interiority and in placing a pretty girl in a pastel sundress in front of the washing-up, Honey creates beauty and curiosity out of the ordinary. Who is this girl? Why is she so groomed and dressed up? Honey poses the commonplace in a manner that is shot to seem extraordinary, in contrast to the way that Goldin takes turns to shock and horrify, and familiarise our own emotions with that of the subjects. With all taboos broken, this creates a new field for photography, whereby in the ordinary, you find the most exceptional beauty: “We don’t need to search for these extraordinary hits, it’s happening all the time in our daily life. Listen to the sound of the breath going in and out, somebody catching your eye on the bus, or the sun reflecting off water.” Her latest project, Beyond Retro encapsulates this tongue-in-cheek attitude to style and beauty, as she followed two models around London’s iconic tourist sites in a vast array of vintage wares. While her Please Let Bunny Grow Up series continues a more social critique through images of her 11-year old niece, forced to grow up in a world where Katie Price is idolised by children and Hugh Hefner’s bunnies are eternally young: “I wanted Emma to present more emotions than the Playboy bunny, I want to present her as the young woman that she is.”
Ultimately Jannica Honey’s images present her view of reality, one that calls into question our reactions and morals in the way that we suddenly expect to be shocked by art. While, of course, children do smoke, Honey stages these images “because I find it more interesting and honest compared to going to a council estate and capturing the estate’s inhabitants.” Honey rejects this gritty reality with an ethereal quality that has its roots in truth, but also in the stylised world of fashion: “Sometimes I find my ‘real’ strangely dreamlike. I am not a reportage photographer collecting snapshots; I see the image before it happens.” It represents a new discretion, and an indication that we have become tired of the exposé.
In the tradition of landscape painters of the 18th century, and street photographers of the early 20th century, Honey has made the ordinary beautiful. Her works take inspiration from confessional photographers, but creates something new, with the juxtaposition of the contrived, and the everyday, combined under the photographer’s discerning eye. For further information visit www.jannicahoney.com.