Australian photographer Chloe Bartram wrote in a couple weeks ago about her projects Sparkle, baby I and Sparkle, baby II, which look at children’s beauty pageants. I’ve seen projects on this subject before, but what really strikes me about Bartram’s work is the still-lifes of all of the equipment, for lack of a better term, that goes into turning a young girl into a beauty pageant contestant. I suppose I sub-consciously realized that all of these accouterments must exist, but I’ve never seen them outside of the context of a pageant. Seeing the fake eyelashes and tanning solution and wigs presented in such an isolated way in Sparkle, baby II reinforces the surrealism of these contests of traditional notions of beauty and femininity. The girls are being constructed into an ideal as the sum of these constituent parts. Bartram also documents the pageants themselves, in Sparkle, Baby I, focusing on vulnerable moments behind the scenes and during the competition. You can see images from both parts of the project above and more on Bartram’s website. This work is also a finalist in the Sony World Photography Awards Professional Arts and Culture category.
“The hanging wig without a head is out of place and unnatural. It is also away to explore the amount of detail that is placed upon such a small human being.” –Chloe Bartram
I asked Chloe to talk a little about what drew her to this subject and why she approached it in these two separate ways. Here’s what she had to say:
“One day I was searching YouTube for no real reason and somehow I landed on a story on child beauty pageants in America. I knew about the culture in the United States but it sparked my curiosity to know whether or not the events existed in Australia and if so to what extent. I tend to look at issues that involve self or ones where I can compare my own personal experiences and thoughts. For me, this makes the project more personal and relatable. Growing up I wasn’t a beauty queen and had quite low self esteem so I wanted to discover what it was like for a girl growing up now and in a privileged society. I wanted to know if those that competed in the pageants were disadvantaged when it came to conforming to the idealised view of girlhood or do the girls see it as a celebration of self. Did it increase the pressures they face or did it actually help them with self esteem and confidence?
“Beauty pageants for the young are a controversial issue and it is because of this that I went into the project unbiased and completely open to the situation. I wanted to allow the girls a chance to tell their own story. This project became a collaboration and I was able to photograph a more intimate documentary series. Regardless of political standpoint it was important for me to remember people matter much more than images. I was able to get to know the girls and the families outside of the pageants and photographed them within the home environment. These images did not make into the final edit but the process was essential to my research and establishing relationships and the story.
“I chose to take the pageant paraphernalia into the studio to separate the girls from the objects and to show the full extent of what goes into competing in such an event. Pageants are very busy; there is an overwhelming amount of colour, glitter and hairspray. By taking the objects away from the situation they become plastic and static. The hanging wig without a head is out of place and unnatural. It is also away to explore the amount of detail that is placed upon such a small human being.”
By the way, Bartram just launched a kickstarter campaign this week to, in part, continue her work on sexuality.