Environmental Scientist-turned-Fine Art Photographer Amanda Picotte Shoots Real People
by Codi Fant
Raw, real, and relatable. Qualities that make Brooklyn-based photographer, Amanda Picotte’s compelling images a welcome alternative to mainstream fashion photography. Picotte takes a fine art approach to fashion photography, with a focus on queer representation and identity. Her striking photographs feature whimsical garment-play, yet manage to promote a natural, approachable narrative not often seen in high fashion editorial work.
Picotte’s models are all real people. Her subject-pool mainly consists of her friends and family members rather than mannequin-esque substitutes for hangers. As a result, the collaboration between Picotte and her models captures the authenticity of marginalized cultures in a way that is non-exploitative. More importantly, her work celebrates people expressing themselves through their clothes in a way that feels refreshingly intimate—a departure from the cold, impersonal commercial work that comes standard in a lot of fashion photography.
Many of Picotte’s photographs share the common thread of queer influence. “That’s kind of an unintended consequence more or less,” she explained, “mostly because I just take a lot of photos of my friends and family, so, therefore, most of the subjects are going to end up being gay.” Picotte, a queer woman herself, finds inspiration and purpose in bringing reflections of the life around her into the spotlight of her work. Picotte explained how fashion's role in her work has become a bit of an unintended consequence as well. “Fashion is so fun, and colorful, and playful, especially when it comes to identity politics, she went on, “particularly identity politics that explore performance and how you dress yourself and the way that you present yourself to the world. It was a really easy way for me to talk about the things that I want to in the language of fashion.”
As a part of her navigation of identity politics, Picotte emphasizes an interest in exploring masculinity: “I think that comes from my experience in being a woman more than my experience in being a queer woman,” she said. “When you experience so much toxic masculinity in your life, the only thing you really want to see is alternative forms of masculinity. I’ve come to realize a lot of my subjects are male—either performing in drag or wearing makeup—and adopting aspects of femininity. This is definitely a huge reaction to me wanting to understand why masculinity is so violent and intense and has such terrible consequences for everybody, not just women.”
Prior to receiving an MPS in Fashion Photography from the School of Visual Arts, Picotte attended The University of Vermont, where she studied Environmental Science before going on to finish her undergraduate degree at Pratt Institute in Critical and Visual Studies. Before pursuing a career as an artist, Amanda had been, and still is, an academic. At Pratt she got to explore both of her interests. “My final thesis [at Pratt] was on Reagan and the War on Drugs. I was really into politics and history and I thought about going to Pratt, it’s still an art school so I got that fix, but I also got tangible writing skills.” She continued, “I always wanted to be a photographer, but had been too scared to really think that I could actually make it.”
Before deciding to enroll in SVA, Picotte worked with Human Rights organizations such as Amnesty International. A far cry from fashion photography. But why, other than the love of the medium, did she return to school to pursue a career in Fashion Photography? “I came to realize, especially through academia which I loved so much, that I wasn’t going to be able to affect the social change that I was really going for if I was just going to be talking to people who were already on the same page as me.” She went on, “Though writing essays, or books, or being a journalist is where I saw myself going, I realized that I was going to be preaching to the choir. I realized that pop-culture is actually a really amazing way to put new ideas out there and have people engage with them on a mass level. People in the suburbs of Iowa are going to be seeing fashion images in Vogue more than they’re going to be reading a piece in The Nation.”
Picotte’s latest series of work is the result of a corporate shoot. The client ended up using altered versions of the images. However, committed to showing them in the way they were intended to be seen, Picotte has allowed us to feature her ethereal pieces in their original form. The theme of the shoot was “Air.” A tough concept to tackle without cliches, but Picotte managed to bring her whimsy and spontaneity to what could have been a drab shoot by including a professional bubble artist, some close friends, and her signature subversive aesthetic. The resulting images, while commercially commissioned, preserve what her personal work expresses: an intimate look into perceived glamour and individual expression.
Photographer: Amanda Picotte
Models: Ayumi Patterson and Nic Valley
Makeup: Tippy Danger
Hair: Jocelin Williams
Styling: Ricky Aiello Jr.
Assistant: Vedant Gupta