In the case of 23-year old Amanda Charchian’s photography, revelation is the goal. It is a desire to construct timelessness that inspires her to photograph nudes. She favors skin over clothes because of its raw honesty, the removal of clothing a path to seeing ourselves in our purest most vulnerable forms.
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To Charchian, those who criticize the use of nudity in art for its overused “shock” factor are failing in their analysis. “People have the inability to appreciate the subtle differences between artistic nuances,” she says. “How could anyone pass our purist physical state- something you can’t pretend doesn’t exist – as ‘unnecessary’ or ‘overdone’?”
Intentionally or not, stripping the human body often presents it as something exclusively erotic, limiting it as an object of desire and a vehicle for pleasure. Nudity and eroticism are commonly joined conceptually, but Charchian cleverly asserts that clothing is often the culprit in over-sexed societies.
“If clothing truly controlled lust and other ‘sinful’ inclinations surrounding nudity,” shequestions, “would we be such a sex-crazed society? In my travels to countries like Egypt and India where women are the MOST covered, the men are also the most hostile and aggressive with their eyes. It is pretty basic psychology that restriction creates desire.”
Repression has long been considered a catalyst for desire. The inability to separate nudity from eroticism is symptomatic of societal brainwashing and forced out of likely arbitrary, social, or religious mores. “When you specifically are told you can’t have something, you want it more,” Charchian explains. “In a culturally conditioned and ultimately stunted state, one cannot separate eroticism and nudity. But in my perception of nudity through the lens of a naturist, there doesn’t always have to be a sexual tension.”
“To say that these [nudity and eroticism] always go hand-in-hand would be to ignore individual sexual idiosyncrasies or fetishes,” Charchian continues. “Some people find a lot of eroticism in the fully-clothed. Sexuality is a complicated part of our existence, and that is why it is fascinating to me.”
As stated on her website, Charchian is an investigator of “the state of alienation through realms of the physical, psycho-social, and spiritual human condition.” Although it is not her specific intent to be provocative, Charchian is a rebellious insurgent within a constrictive culture, battling for openness in an otherwise restrictive society. She says “‘YES’ in a world of No.” With art as her agent, she is, by default, a kind of creative hellion.
“I appear defiant because I have something to rebel against, something to be resistant to. Every artist I admire has something to say, to instigate, a passion to ignite.” Charchian, does not, however, take her freedom of expression for granted. Her parents escaped an oppressive Islamic regime in Iran, which affected her massively. It is perhaps the reason for the amount of “deep celebration of female freedom and sensuality” she conveys within her work. “That wouldn’t be possible if I lived in Iran,” she says.
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“YES” has become more than just a word for Charchian; it is a way of life. Appearing in her work both physically and symbolically, these three letters represent an ideology that fosters positive energy and the overwhelming power that comes with it. “‘YES’ is a mantra,” she states. “It is a word, but somehow it is beyond a word. It transcends its own meaning. For example, when our brain hears the word ‘NO’, our survival instincts, stress responses and heart rate increase immediately. But when the brain hears the word ‘YES’, absolutely nothing happens. It is a very spiritual word.”
Her piece eYES, for example, is a meticulously-assembled sculpture of the letters Y-E-S made, from Swarovski Spectra crystals and nickel-plated steel. The healing nature of the materials and the profundity of the message are a testament to Charchian’s affection for nature and her interest in mysticism. Citing the “historical and philosophical interplay between surrealism and occultism” as one of her influences, Charchian composes imaginative images that are undeniably mythical. A photograph from the series entitled Sworn In Swarkestone depicts a woman wearing a glorious black cape that spreads like the wings of bat; she stands with her eyes closed towards the heavens, in front of a mysterious faded stone building. The scene is ethereal and preternatural and indeed evokes a kind of pagan charm reminiscent of the occult.
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Utilizing almost exclusively analog cameras, she believes that “film captures the energy that is emitted from organic matter better than digital does.” There is something about those lustrous silver oxide bits that is pure magic. Film is tangible and therefore more natural. “Perhaps it is because it is a physical object that takes up space,” she hypothesizes. “It can record another physical object better.”
Taking this idea even further, Charchian also keeps a number of “magical items” inside of her camera bag. It is an ephemeral collection of creative aids that are ever-present and always evolving. Some items she keeps handy include prisms, crystals, glitter sticks, expired film, fresh flowers, and vintage track filters. “It is always changing depending on what I have found along the way,” she explains.
Creative tools in hand, her process as an artist involves translating pervading ideas into concrete projects. Channeling this spiritual inspiration, she is more of an instrument than an architect: “My strongest works were ones that appeared to me as a fully formed vision that seemed impossible. The planning part comes from trying to manifest that otherworldly flash on the psychical plane without losing the divine nature of the original inspiration. Sometimes an idea haunts me literally every five minutes until I make it happen. It’s like being on the verge of orgasm for a very prolonged amount of time.”
Harnessing ideas and following them through to actualization is a means of transferring what comes from the subconscious realm into objects as works of art. Where photography is concerned, it is a way to capture a very distinct moment and cement it in time. However, Charchian does not shoot photos to remember things; she shoots to create an entirely independent event — a new memory. The shutter of a camera captures only an instant revealing what is not cognitively perceivable by the human eye.
“When you freeze time for an image, it extends beyond time, thus making it timeless,” she says. Within a circular time perspective, this frozen moment is a way to make that moment last forever. It creates a sort of temporal infinity. It does, indeed, become timeless.
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