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10 Powerful Photos by Denise Prince that Challenge Standards of Beauty

The groundbreaking artist discusses the subjects of her most impactful images

Denise Prince

It’s not surprising that Denise Prince’s work has been seen around the world. Standards of beauty don’t hold up within borders, much less across them. The photographer, performer, film-maker and painter explores – and challenges – the spectrum of what counts as beautiful in her groundbreaking work, which was celebrated and recognized from Brooklyn to Finland this year. “I feel as though, finally, I’ve arrived fundamentally,” Prince says of her accomplishments in 2019. Based in Austin, Prince was included in Tribeza’s People Issue alongside a handful of fellow residents whose contributions made a positive impact in our community. To further understand and delve into Prince’s work, we asked her to select 10 images from her photography projects and to give background and insight into her subjects.

“Last Look” for Vogue, including Marni boots

An alternate “Last Look” for the September 2019 issue of Vogue taken in the bowling alley locker room at Saengerrunde Hall. Prince was one of 10 artists commissioned by the magazine to reimagine pages of the iconic fashion magazine.

From Captivating, Not Captive

“The beauty of being disabled is that you can let go of traditional beauty standards and really work on self-love and self-appreciation. It’s a chance for growth without approval from others. It’s hard. Very hard. But necessary.” – model/actor Toby Altrabulsi

“The hand in this image belongs to my friend Toby,” says Prince. “He’s an actor, and I’ve always loved the way he gestures extravagantly with his hands. It reminds me of Adolph de Meyer’s iconic 1930’s advertisements for Elizabeth Arden, so we worked with those fashion signifiers.”

From Captivating, Not Captive

“If you have curly hair just wear it curly and love it.”  – Gretchen Heber

“The glasses are gauche, but the truth is I’m from Dallas, so I love gauche,” says Prince, who was also enamored with the model’s receding hairline. “In the1300’s women would pluck their hairlines in the name of fashion. To me, this image is a good-humored nod to the nonsensical nature of beauty standards.”

From Captivating, Not Captive

“…even in the public. I go out of there. I play the dancing with her. Oh, my God! I think I’m look like the crazy monkey. But who care, you know?”  – Jacqueline’s Auntie

“Jacqueline, the model in this picture, was a senior in high school when I took this. She’s developmentally disabled and not able to speak, so her Auntie, who is her caretaker, communicates for her,” says Prince. “I love the way they dance and laugh their way through life’s daily incongruities and frustrations. If, for example, they’re out shopping and Jackie gets upset and lays down on the floor, her Auntie will plop down beside her or start dancing to make Jackie smile. I learned a lot from their love of each other.”

From Captivating, Not Captive

“They might overlook everything else because my lipstick wasn’t right.”  – Poet and model Bette O’Callaghan

“If you know Paris based fashion designer Rick Owens’ wife and muse, Michele Lamy, and her ‘grill’, you may appreciate the conversation these mouths are having,” says Prince. “Lamy plays with the relationship between her real body with fashion’s imaginary ‘perfect’ body in fantastic ways. She and Ricks’ aesthetic are taken so seriously that I wanted to play mischievously with their language.”

From Captivating, Not Captive

“I love trying to change people’s minds and making them see what needs to be seen. That’s nothing.”  – Denise Prince

“Zelda Voyles, the girl in this photo, spoke in poetic circles while I took photographs of her,” says Prince. “She has a punk flair that stole my heart, but this image caught the fullness of her budding teen beauty. It’s a moment that simultaneously evokes the lightheartedness of puppies and the gravity of adulthood.”

From Captivating, Not Captive

“You don’t got to tip toe around me because I ain’t gonna tip toe around you.” – Bette O’Callaghan

“This is Bette. She’s 72 and is one of my favorite models,” says Prince. “She treats life as performance art and city streets as her catwalk.”

“The Lollipop Girls Struggle on the Hard Earth”

“I make art photographs alongside my film projects,” says Prince. “The scene captured here involved the two Lollipop Girls, named for their pale stick figures and balls of hair, running towards the camera. I filmed them dreamily in slow motion and captured this photo after one of the takes, as they gingerly made their way back to the starting point. It evoked barefoot Texas summers of my childhood and is my favorite image from the project.”

“The Simple and Loving Heart of Her Childhood”

A commissioned portrait inspired by Tony Duquette and Alice in Wonderland.

“Carnalveil,” part of an ongoing book project in collaboration with Justine Gilcrease from the late-night eatery Justine’s Brasserie.

“We are creating a series of images that play with the allure of the restaurant,” says Prince. “People have attached so many romantic ideas to the place and the people who work there. All of my work centers on the cathexis/decathexis of meaning we create and attribute as we make our way through each day.”