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Future Feminine: Art & Photography / Culture Talks The Photographic Duo Challenging Our Expectations of Beauty

As a new exhibition celebrating the female gaze opens in Los Angeles, we speak to participating duo Honey Long and Prue Stent

Text by Irina Baconsky

Future Feminine is a new group exhibition navigating the female gaze in 21st century photography – and looking forward to what the future holds. To celebrate the opening at LA’s Fahey Klein Gallery this week, we meet the participating artists – Honey Long and Prue Stent, Magdalena Wosinska, Amanda Charchian and Remy Holwick – to take a closer look at their work.

Australian artists Honey Long and Prue Stent have a flair for quiet subversion. A disarming element of conflict permeates their imagery, which is a magnetic blend of raw frankness, dreamy surrealism and a soft, bubble-gum palette, drawing viewers in even before fully understanding what they are looking at.

Aged just 24, the Sydney-based photography duo have already been collaborating for over five years, creating symbolically charged bodies of work which explore their shared understanding of nature, femininity, and the undercurrent of grotesque behind our narrow cultural perceptions of beauty. “We’ve known each other since we were teenagers, and making work together has always been a big part of our friendship,” they explain. “Over the years, our practice has evolved and our roles within it have become more fluid, but thematically, we’ve remained pretty consistent.”

For their latest project, Future Feminine – a group exhibition held at LA’s Fahey/Klein Gallery celebrating the multiple facets of the female gaze – the young photographers have put together a prismatic cross-arrangement of images from their archive, questioning the oversimplified narratives linked to depictions of the feminine identity. “We’re very interested in deconstructing the body into a kind of sculptural matter, and deconstructing the environment that we’re in so that each element takes a life of its own. We want to give a certain autonomy back to our subjects,” they assert. Ultimately, Long and Stent’s exquisitely unsettling visual jargon is a poignant statement against the notion of passive femininity. “There are so many misconceptions and reductive, binary classifications all around us,” they continue. “Women are always being defined in relation to other factors, their identity seems to constantly be dependent upon something external to them. We want to acknowledge the inherent complexity of our subjects and create a space where they can become active.” 

“Men act, women appear,” John Berger famously wrote in his seminal Ways of Seeing, and indeed, few concepts over time have been more forcefully associated with femininity than beauty and appearance. In their practice, Long and Stent seek to examine the dynamics of beauty as an instrument of control, and break the shiny veneer of hyper-femininity that has become inescapable in Western culture. “The idea of beautification involves a strong nuance of trying to conceal, pacify something that’s otherwise confrontational, dangerous or even gruesome,” says Long. “Historically, beautifying has been a way of controlling, and we wanted to look at how this operates in relation to the female body.”

As such, however engaging, their visuals trigger a vague sense of unease. “There is always something slightly disturbing about our photos and it’s nice if people can feel a bit disturbed despite the images being visually appealing. That’s what prompts them to think and start looking at things differently,” argues Stent. The duo hope their work will encourage us to rethink our culturally stale outlook on beauty without entirely disregarding the latent potential of the concept as a whole. “There is this fixed definition of beauty that tends to be applied to femininity as opposed to, for example, the sublime, which in art history has always been associated with this grand, transcendental, masculine experience,” the artists explain. “Beauty, as generally perceived, is oversimplified and boring. “We want to energize it, destabilize it, and hopefully show to the world what it can truly be.”

By blurring the lines between physicality and metaphor, Honey Long and Prue Stent unearth the actively conflicting playfulness of the female identity, and pay a visceral visual homage to the galvanizing energy bubbling under the feminine psyche.