PDN Photo of the Day

Playing with Identity

In Linnea Bullion’s ongoing “Selfies” series, she tries out various adolescent roles—she plays video games, chugs beer in a kiddie pool and contemplates the Easter Bunny chocolate smeared on her face. Begun when the Los Angeles-based photographer still lived in Minnesota, the series has been a way to expand her lighting and art directing skills, and to explore ideas about gender. She has continued the series in part because of the positive response it gets from friends and on social media, and because the pictures are fun to make. Bullion, who has shot for clients including Vans and Girls are Awesome, tells PDN about her “Selfies” in an edited email interview.

PDN: How did the series develop?
Linnea Bullion: It originally started as a way for me to practice lighting at home without having to source models. The first one I shot was in the dead of winter in Minnesota, while I was still living at my parents’ house and was hard-pressed to find models to test without yet being super confident in my lighting skills. After the first few, I realized that more than just being a great way to practice lighting, they were a way for me to play with identity. All of the images have some extension of my personality within them, even if that is just making fun of something I find ridiculous. I’ve found them to be an almost cathartic way to deal with some of the more personal lines I walk in my life: how can I show off both my masculine, “tomboy” self while maintaining a traditionally feminine appearance? How can I poke fun at gender stereotypes and expectations?

As for the actual thought process behind each image, it varies. I’m an avid thrifter, and have found a lot of inspiration from certain pieces I’ve come across while shopping. The 1950s school dance image, for example, was inspired by that blue dress, which I found for $15. Other images come from me trying to process certain feelings. The crying-on-the-couch image was shot while I truly was an emotional train wreck after a falling-out with a guy for whom I really cared. At the time, I was heartbroken, but also felt that I was overreacting. Shooting a self-portrait that allowed me to show those feelings while acknowledging that they were a bit silly and over the top helped me to deal with them.

PDN: What have been some of the challenges of making the series? Is it important that the images all work together visually?
LB: Making the time to shoot has always been a challenge for me. There’s so much going on and so much by which to be distracted. There are also a few that I’ve shot that don’t quite work, and thus have never seen the light of day. I keep those images in the back of my head, because sometimes they could always be reshot in a way that will work. Because I never started this series thinking “This is going to be a body of work,” I don’t mind if they don’t all work together visually. There will always be that common, recognizable thread: me.

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