It’s officially been one year since the Covid-19 pandemic closed down bars, clubs and any semblance of our social life. During that time, the ensuing sexual drought has led many of us to feel particularly starved of touch, with social distanced meet-ups and Zoom dates doing little to stave off the lingering horniness in the air.
While she can’t do anything about our cabin fever, LA-based photographer and artist Maggie West is enshrining the beauty and joy of hook-ups which we took for granted pre-lockdown. With her ongoing project KISS she depicts smooching couples — featuring the likes of Alexa Demie — against high-impact neon lights. Très reminiscent of sweaty, fleeting encounters in the club.
As we lie in wait for our shot of the vaccine, we spoke with Maggie about her project and the underappreciated joy of kissing.
What’s your experience of lockdown been?
It’s really been a mix of positive and negative experiences. Initially, I was just super depressed. I do a lot of art installations and most of my large projects for 2020 were either cancelled or postponed. Between that and the isolation from friends and family, the first few months were pretty difficult. However, after the initial shock of everything wore off, I started to take some time to explore some things I had always been interested in but never had time for. For example, I started getting really into gardening. I had always photographed plants, but I’d never been able to grow them. It’s now one year into the pandemic and I have a huge, wild garden.
How long have you been an artist and photographer?
I’ve always been interested in art. In high school, I was really into painting and illustration. I got my first photo job in college as a way to pay rent, but eventually decided to pursue it as a career. I moved to Los Angeles in 2008 and have been working as an artist and photographer ever since.
What are the main themes or aesthetic concerns that drive your practice?
I think my work exists somewhere between documentation and fantasy. A lot of the subjects in my images are common in the arts (nudes portraits, flowers, kissing) but by using vivid, coloured lighting I try to re-contextualise everything and give the viewers a fresh perspective on the subject.
Where did the idea for KISS come about?
I wanted to capture genuine emotional connection. The photos in this project depict a wide range of couples. Whether between a long term couple or virtual strangers, there is a moment in each embrace where inhibitions are shed and each person is fully present in the moment.
What’s so great about kissing?
Kissing is a universal language that transcends cultural and geographical boundaries. We can all remember the first time we kissed a crush and how electric that felt in the moment.
How did you cast the couples featured in the series?
For the first book in 2015, I primarily cast my friends. It was my first art book and I wanted to work with people I knew who would be comfortable kissing in front of me. For the second edition of the book, I wanted to shoot couples all over the world. I used Instagram to find models in Sydney, Budapest, Lviv, and Prague. Unfortunately, due to Covid, I had to pause all of my other international shoots for the book. I hope to eventually resume shooting for the second edition at some point in the future.
Do you think the images’ meaning and significance have changed during the pandemic?
Definitely! I think isolation has been really difficult for everyone and I hope these images can serve as a reminder of our universal desire for love and connection.
How do you think the world will approach intimacy once the pandemic has lifted?
I think a lot of people may still be a little wary of intimacy even after the lockdowns have been lifted. But I don’t think that will last too long. My guess is, after a few months, people will be kissing as much as they were in 2019. Maybe even more…
What are you working on next?
Throughout the lockdowns, I’ve been working on some exciting new video art installations that should be coming out later this summer.
KISS is currently on show at Maccarone Gallery.
Loved what you’ve read? Check out our interview with Emma Firth, the founder of story-telling platform Kissing & Other Stories.