Originating from Ohio, Caroline Tompkins received a BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, and her work has been featured on BBC, Al Jazeera America, Huffington Post, and The Fader among others. Her photographs explore issues of female sexuality, localism, and sincerity within them. Caroline currently lives in Brooklyn, NY working as a freelance photographer and photo editor at Bloomberg Businessweek.
“Fantasy Bond is an exploration in gender construction, fact and fiction, and desire with a female critique. Men in the gaze are historically tied to male homosexuality, which is to say objectification belongs to men. A woman’s attraction is therefore sabotaged as images of male physicality and vulnerability default to men performing for other men. Women are then subjected to making something imperfect or even ugly to distinguish their work from the male-coated iconic lust, while still letting themselves fall in love through image.”
Unfortunately, I was so busy installing the show in Milan that all I really had time for was a few trips to Bar Basso and some late-night walks around the city.
I did get to spend some time on the coast near Genoa with some friends, which was very special.
I had just left an intense job of five years back in the States, so I will always think of that time in Italy as the first time I could really unclench my fists.
How different, in your opinion, is the perception of eroticism in the United States with that of Europe? Or of Italy specifically, if you had any chance to observe it during your time here?
I only have assumptions of what I think European eroticism is compared to that of the US. Much of the US is still rooted in a puritanical Christian conservatism that leaves people with a vast amount of shame and secrecy around sex. That shame creates a lot of unintended consequences that are threaded throughout my work. I really don’t have a framework for how that compares to Italy, so you’ll have to read this and decide for yourself.
You appear very often in your photos. What are the implications of taking portraits of yourself?
It’s the most conscientious choice in many ways. I literally have skin in the game. I think it’s easier for people to enter the work too. I mean it’s all very personal but I’m just a stand in – something for the viewer to project onto. And it’s terribly convenient. Sometimes pictures take a year to develop. Sometimes it’s just a weekend. I’m always ready, willing, and able. I believe the people in my photographs are performing for me. It only seems right that I participate in the performance too.
How would you explain the concept of Fantasy Bond?
The work that I’m making under this title is about the inextricable relationship between female desire and fear. For example, why a woman often texts their friends their location before they go on a Tinder date with a man.
The implication being that you will either have a nice date or be seriously injured/killed? All women are aware of the constant low-level anxiety that we might someday be killed by a man; yet we continue to love, chase, and be attracted to them. This dichotomy complicates female desire in a way that is at the root of my work. That’s the meat of it, but there’s more of course. I want to play with truth in photography – what story can I tell and how might the viewer trust or distrust it. As well as adding to how we see men photographically represented by women.
What are the influences and life experiences that inspire your nude portraits?
I try to be very sensitive to the things that make me uncomfortable. It’s not only about discomfort, but also about the things you desire intensely. That could be why I’m uncomfortable when I’m getting catcalled on the street or at a crowded lunch spot surrounded by finance bros. It’s all about keeping that light on for yourself. That could be thinking about why I’m attracted to certain people or prefer certain porn over others. It’s very important that I remain curious.