This project is an exploration of British beauty pageants that originated from a fascination with child beauty pageants. I found myself reading increasing amounts of articles and people slandering the pastime that had recently become a fad in Britain. I agreed with some points to an extent but couldn’t help wanting to defend them alongside the supporters as many of the comments came from people who’d never been to a child pageant but were making judgements based on what they’ve seen in the media. These assumptions created the basis for my project.
Work by Susan Anderson, Meghan Peterson and Lisa Wiltse forced me to realise that simply documenting their narrative was not enough to base a project on as the same thing had been done by many others which my lecturers and peers agreed. I decided it would be beneficial to focus on all pageant culture rather than limiting myself, this would allow me to get an insight into more pageants.
The first pageant I photographed was Miss Motor F1, it helped my understanding of the performance side but it’s the view that the public already has. Photographing Miss Rugby was a completely different experience as I was allowed backstage access so I focussed on behind the scenes. There was a lot I still didn’t know about pageant culture which led me to interviewing beauty queens on their experiences and responses to the negative press. To my surprise, not many of them desired to defend pageants as they had such favourable experiences that they didn’t care what anyone else thought. This enlightened my understanding, I realised that my project needed a stronger reason, once you look past the surface, pageant culture can be positive.
Feedback from Jon Levy changed the way I thought about presentation as well as proposing my biggest dilemma. A topic this wide could not possibly be presented as a limited selection of images especially as the aim of the project is to provide an insight into a new society, I needed to find a way of combining all my images into an artefact. Taking inspiration from collages I discovered that building a mosaic proved the best way for me to present my entire expedition, the overall image would represent the majority view on pageants but as the viewer looked closer they would see tiles documenting in more detail. Making it a more interactive experience, I recorded some audio at Miss Tiara for children creating a soundscape that people could listen to whilst viewing the mosaic. Listening to a child pageant whilst viewing images from an adult pageant complements each other as the audio is lively and the mosaic is a busy image so it almost seems overwhelming, pageants are overwhelming so that’s translated in my presentation. The audience will be immersed into pageant world using the soundscape and large mosaic at eye level creating a personal connection.
This project has required me to overcome challenges, which have made me realise how much I’ve grown as an artist over the past three years. This project will expand as I photograph more pageants throughout the UK and with it being a rising trend, I’ll be making larger mosaics exploring deeper into the culture. It has spiralled a long shot from my initial idea but I’m pleased with the way it’s developed into something completely new.