At a packed opening for her new portrait series, “Possession,” at Superchief L.A. earlier this month, photographer Parker Day took a break from the crowd to tuck into a bottle of Hennessy. Shortly before, someone asked where she was, and the reply came: “She’s dressed like a mermaid, you can’t miss her.”
Turns out, in Day's mythological pantheon, mermaids wear red latex, platinum wigs and impeccable fantasy makeup. Fans waited their turn to pose with muses in a red dungeon outfitted like one of her sets: immersive crushed velvet, metal face cages and a decapitated head from an incendiary self-portrait, which was hung nearby. Two years after her blockbuster debut solo show, “Icons,” also at Superchief, Day said she wanted to move from exploring how identity is outwardly constructed and performed to the body itself as “the first costume.” That meant much more nudity, corporeality — and deli meat.
“For this series, the shoots were a lot more premeditated, where I had a concept already in line but then cast it and talked to my subject about, ‘Hey! We’re gonna do flesh — I want you to have a bunch of ham slices on your bod. How do you feel about that?” she said, waiting a beat to add that she’s vegan. Instagram reacted punitively, to “even a shadow of an areola” but especially to certain kinds of bodies. “I blur everything; I do try to comply with the overlords. But even a fully censored curvy femme body will get taken down.”
Like the 100 character portraits in “Icons,” the new works in Possession are fruits of a radioactive imagination, bent toward delightful, disruptive and hilarious extremes. Forty-six images (including 24 moody Polaroids) — seemed like “a tidy number,” she said, noting it’s also the number of chromosomes in a human cell. “So that’s the print for our bodies but not how they’re perceived or how we use them. What I think about is using what we’re given by nature and nurturing, and transmuting it into what we want to be.”
Naturally, things got metaphysical. “In this series I was really thinking about the life force that animates this meat sack — that’s why I chose the name ‘Possession.’ I was thinking about our bodies being our first tangible possession, really the only thing that cannot be taken from us until we die. But I really like the double entendre of demonic possession, too. Or spiritual possession. Maybe it’s a divine deity that possesses us, so it can go any way.”