An anxious romance: Caroline Tompkins' new book explores female desire and the intricate relationship between sex and fear - Friends of Friends / Freunde von Freunden (FvF)

Photo Essay

An anxious romance: Caroline Tompkins’ new book explores female desire and the intricate relationship between sex and fear

Caroline Tompkins is an American photographer known for her intimate portraits and beautiful landscapes. Her forthcoming book, Bedfellow explores the intertwining of sex with pleasure and danger. The book features friends and strangers, ex-partners and lovers, and confronts the viewer with two seemingly opposite feelings: desiring men while fearing them.

In her brilliant, brave, and also very funny, introduction Caroline writes candidly about dating a guy through college who later impersonated her on Reddit, sharing nudes of her without permission. “I wanted to utilize my experience to make the book but I didn’t want to play the victim. Writing about it, and using humor to do it, felt like the final chapter for me. It felt like a good window into this thing that I was interested in exploring, the relationship between sex and fear. And I think a lot of women can relate to this experience in some way.”

“After I graduated, I started to make pictures about sex. I wanted to make pictures about desire, pure female lust, something I felt was missing in Photography.”

“Around 2018, I realized that a lot of these sexy pictures were kind of scary and unsettling. By processing that work I discovered that, for me, desire had to include fear. As women we grow up with that being normalized; you go on a date with a guy and you have to text your friend where you’re going to be. There’s always an underlying anxiety. How does that interfere with real desire? Eventually, I started to divide the images into Heaven and Hell to create this binary tension, an anxious romance.”

“These are common in the US, you frequently see them on trucks and cars, but what made this stand out were the color and the chainlink it’s hanging from. Initially, I looked at this image as a kind of joke, but once you take the pieces apart you start to feel like this is actually really terrifying. This totem of ‘I got his balls hanging from my truck’.”

“At the time, I had a bit of a crush on him so I definitely wanted to capitalize on my desire and use photography as an access point to hang out with him. Nothing happened between us, I think it was just a practice of desire, it wasn’t acting on it.”

In the book’s introduction, Caroline recalls being in an abusive relationship and having recurring dreams about being covered in leeches, “I have recurring dreams but this one just felt so visually relevant, the idea of having something sucked out of you. Leeches have many uses, you know, people use them for therapy, but also it’s violence.”

Caroline Tompkins grew up in Ohio, US and studied photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where she now resides. A prolific photographer, her clients includes Vogue, Buffalo zine, New York Times, Wallpaper amongst many others. Caroline photographed Sky High Farm for Friends of Friends earlier this summer. Her book Bedfellows is out now and is published by Palm Studio. An exhibition of the work is on show at the 10 14 Gallery in Dalston, London by appointment until 25 November, 2022.  

Interview and text: Emma Hammar

All images courtesy of Caroline Tompkins 

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