We Can Do It is a collaboration between Lac Hoang and fashion store Moniq by M. It draws inspiration from photos published in lifestyle magazines in England and Holland from the 50s, in which women are put in dynamic poses, exercising while cleaning their homes with household appliances. These photos of Western society half a century ago remind me of the commandment to “excel at work and be perfect at home” that I as a Vietnamese woman have heard from a very young age, as well as the constant pressure to behave and keep an image faced by women from both social contexts and times.
Forced out of constraints, these creative acts intrigued me with their humor and ingenuity; they look as realistic as they are surreal. Despite the back-breaking poses, almost all models display uplifting spirits, making chores look less hard and even recreational.
Aware of the close connection between images, systems of signs and meaning, I grow curious about the intention of those image makers. It seems like they are advertising a post-war female ideal who mastered housework and maintained a fine figure simultaneously. Are they implying that the hourglass body is achieved through diligently tidying the house? Is a social standard for a particular gender being endorsed? How motifs are created, and the role of images in ingraining motifs in people’s consciousness are my departure points before planning this shoot.
I have known about the American philosopher Judith Butler and her points about gender. Butler differentiates biological sex from gender that is formed through socially accepted behaviors. As we identify with a particular gender, we perform behaviors prescribed to that gender. Eventually, we become performers in a play in which we both conduct and observe, policing both ourselves and others, to act properly.
Fashion photography to me is a potential tool to deliver social messages. Its imaginative and fictional quality suits my view that photography does not reflect the truth, it only presents a slice of truth, and the image maker is a construction worker. I am a perfectionist worker who enjoys controlling and making a mess at the same time.
In the creative process, preparation is the most time consuming and interesting part to me: from researching, seeking visual references in paintings and photography (in this case, Erwin Wurm, Francis Alys and Rineke Dijkstra) to sketching composition, discussing with designers and finding or making props. For We Can Do It, I looked around my house and the street for suitable home appliances, then watched how people exercise at public parks and on YouTube. My inspiration often comes from the day-to-day, and what challenges me is to turn the mundane into the significant.
I am fond of working with amateur models because they often have a certain level of awkwardness in front of the lens. In this shoot, I want to see in Mai (female model) the spirit of a teenage boy and in Alek (male model) an unconfident man. Before each shoot I always show models the moodboard so they can get a hang of it, but their personality and improvising skills are often surprise factors that I love. By choosing models that confront gender standards (a bald female and a skinny male) and put them in sporty poses with household objects, I want to celebrate the distinction – which should not have been a distinction at all – of individuals that do not conform to gender norms, or social norms in general.
Clothes are not simply objects to be worn, they have their own voice. I believe that fashion photography should steer away from being visually likeable to helping the audience and consumers better understand the value of their purchase, and as a result form a clearer idea of themselves. Even when it is but an illusion, a long-lasting one it shall strive to be.
Lac Hoang just finished her undergrad study in fine art and photography in the US. The past year she has honed down her focus to editorial photos, often taking inspiration from the mundane, the bizarre and the humorous. Currently she is taking some time off to prepare for upcoming projects, in photography and the visual arts.