Body hair has long been a topic closely linked to privacy, intimacy and even censorship. As natural as it is, it is “something that is seen but not looked at”. This is how the New York-based photographer Joshua Aronson, with whom we spoke not long ago, describes his approach to his most recent exhibition, With Mine Dyed Blue. Although he is as young as they come, he continues to gain attention with his honest and spontaneous approach to the image. This time, he’s celebrating his first-ever solo show, inaugurating on October 27 at Space Place Gallery in Nizhniy Tagil, a small town in Russia. In this new set of pictures, he uses the body as his canvas, where he both creates and examines a subculture of dying pubic hair while simultaneously bringing questions to the general sexual relation.  
First of all, congratulations on your first upcoming solo exhibition, With Mine Dyed Blue. The first thing I’d like to talk about is its title and theme: pubic hair and how do some people style it by, for example, dying it another colour. As you say, you document this new subculture. How did you come across it, and how did you approach the people who are part of it?
I’m interested in the history of subculture. How a subculture comes to be, but also, how the aesthetics of a subculture develop and take shape. What came first, the mohawk or punk? The tattoo or the rebel? When I started considering these timelines, I also started daydreaming about what it would be like to develop my own kind of subculture. I considered how the history of subculture was such a new and in flux study, and didn’t see why I couldn’t start my own based on the principles of an ideology.
At that point, I started approaching people who I felt embodied these principles. People who weren’t afraid of their bodies, who were comfortable altering their body hair, and who could make a very private space public. I wasn’t looking for anything sexy. I’m interested in depicting the body in a benign and honest way.. 
Now, we have yet to see all the photos from your upcoming exhibition, but it’s safe to say that some of them would be considered rather striking or, at least, very much on display. How did an exhibition like this end up in a small town in Russia?
The opportunity to show these photos in Russia came by way of email. I opened a message from a very nice curator there who had seen some of my photos and asked me if I wanted to do a show. I said yes because I loved how unique the opportunity was – to do something that couldn’t have been done twenty or thirty years ago. Russia hasn’t really been this accessible until recently.
It’s obvious that your works often touch the genre of portraiture in one way or the other. This time around, however, it’s not a moment or an expression inviting the viewer, but something much more intimate as pubic hair. How did you come upon this subject? And why does it have an interest?
I started photographing the body because I was looking for a canvas of my own, where I could experiment and start to understand what it is that I have to say. I was interested in the way body hair is something that is seen but not looked at, not examined –at least, not in a non-sexual way. Things that are seen but not looked at, like flags and signs, are canvases for exploring how images are made. The eye encounters them so often that when you see a flag or a sign in a photograph, your focus is less so on it and more so on the way it’s being displayed. Body hair, to me, was a venue for exploring the types of images I wanted to make.
The solo show is described as asking: “(…) how we can celebrate the individual’s body without an overtly sexual gaze.” But there seems to be more going on than just the beauty ideals and an asexualization of pubic hair with the incorporation of other elements such as fire and fur. What were the intentions behind these elements?
I was just using the things around me for my material. Fur and fire fascinate me. They’re nice, however, they are displayed. I approve of how everybody accessorizes in that way. I accept it. I just watch and observe, and make photos along the way.
“I was interested in the way body hair is something that is seen but not looked at, not examined –at least, not in a non-sexual way.”
Can we have a little behind-the-scenes description of the series? How did you shoot it? I can see a picture where the pubic hair is set on fire, which seems dangerous…
I just brought dye and bleach everywhere with me. I remember being in Berlin with friends, bringing a carry-on bag and stuffing my box of bleach and bottle of dye in the bag along the way. I was that kid at the party with a camera and some materials looking around at everybody like, ‘who’s ready?’
In 2013, photographer Petra Collins gained international attention after writing a statement on her website as her Instagram account got deleted for violating the terms of use. The image uploaded was merely a photo of her underpants with small areas of her pubic hair appearing. It created a broad debate online on what ‘femininity’ is in relation to beauty standards as well as the cost of censorship online. Also, more recently, erotic photographer Florian Hetz has had some pictures deleted as well because they showed pubic hair. As a photographer yourself, how do you see your new series in relation to this ‘body-image movement’ and censorship taking place in our current times? 
Petra and I both spent time working with Ryan McGinley. I’m not saying this to drop names but to say that there’s a context to everything. Right around the time I started making my body series was when I stopped working at Ryan’s. At his studio, I had been flipping through books of nude photos every day and I loved it. But I thought it was time I started contributing. My photos are largely a call-and-response mechanism. I looked at Ryan’s photos, read about censorship and the body-image movement, and just started responding. 
Your previous work has mainly been about intimacy through portraits, where one could say the most recent work is simply one step further – a more literal intimacy. Yet, the photos do come across as more confrontational than before. Do you see this series and this more direct approach to be something you want to discover further in the future?
I don’t like the word confrontational. Does anything confrontational make you happy? Moving forward, I want to make work that makes you happy. I like the way a photograph can make you smile or just laugh sometimes. Happy work is the work I want to try and make.
With Mine Dyed Blue, a solo show by Joshua Aronson, will inaugurate on October 27 and will be on view until November 10 at Space Place Gallery, Prospekt Stroiteley, 1а, Nizhny Tagil, Russia.
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