Simone by Simon Chetrit
Simone Thompson is self taught analog photographer, a daughter of artists, and an all around explorer. She currently resides in East LA, yet feels at home wherever the inspiration is, whether thats amongst the California palm tress or the NYC subway. We chatted with Simone about her art, her exploration of sexuality, and what she thinks about the portrayal of queer women and women of color within her creative environment.
Tell me about your evolution as a photographer and an artist? How did you get into the medium?
I started taking pictures 2 years ago. Initially I was shooting digital and then pretty quickly I fell in love with the process of shooting film. Now I shoot film exclusively. Before I came into photography I felt very lost creatively. My father is a jazz musician and my mother is a painter and a sculptor so growing up I always participated in the arts. I studied violin for 12 years and attempted a degree in music performance but I wound up giving it up after years of commitment. I started having issues with the joints in my hands and it disabled my ability to keep playing. After that I just sort of dabbled in a bunch of different things but I didn’t feel at all fulfilled. I knew I had a creative energy in me but I couldn’t place what it was. When I moved to New York I did a little modeling and that really inspired me to get into the medium of photography. I enjoyed the intimacy of it and I liked that I was able to create a visual diary for myself. The whole process felt very cathartic and rewarding. It was also instrumental in my ability to meet and connect with people in New York which at one point felt very lonely.
How do you explore sexuality through your work?
It’s taken me a long time to become fully comfortable in my sexuality. Just like every other woman on the planet, I was socialized to believe that outward expressions of female sexuality read as desperate and undesirable. That female sexuality should be paraded about but only if puppeteered by a male gaze. I’ve shot a lot of nude work but one thing that has been so important to me is that all the people I’ve shot have been portrayed in a position of empowerment. I enjoy shooting female identified people who are unapologetic about their sexuality. Who own it and aren’t here to perform for a male audience. When I shoot it’s usually with friends and it’s usually pretty casual. I just want everyone I work with to feel strong and beautiful.
How do you feel about the representation of women, especially queer women and women of color in the media and in art?
The under-representation of brown and queer female identified folks in media was a huge motivator for me to get into photography. The majority of photographers i’ve worked with have been White and more than half of them have been men. I feel as a Black queer woman I am able to lend a unique voice to photography. I also feel motivated to do so because as a model I have been turned down so much. Even within the realm of art modeling I have been told I’m not “exotic enough, thin enough, edgy enough, too edgy etc.” This has been discouraging and as a Black artist in general you have to work 10x’s harder to get noticed. As a photographer I am able to break those rules. Because I am able to create content I am able to shift the greater narrative of beauty standards. I’ve seen a change in the past few years but “diversity” in media is still extremely limited. It’s empowering to have the tools to change that.
Tell me about your experience about working at a popular sex store. How did that impact your own sexuality?
I worked at Good Vibrations for a time when I lived in The Bay Area. I came from a retail background and at the time I wanted to transition into something else that I thought would help people. I realize now that coming into it I held onto a lot of internalized sex negativity. Talking people through their own sexuality and experiences allowed me to be more open and comfortable with my own. Being in an environment that was so accepting also allowed me to become a lot more honest and assertive. I no longer felt awkward or inhibited when expressing what I wanted or needed to a partner. I also learned just how bad sex education is in our country! The amount of women I met who were in their 50’s and 60’s who had never had an orgasm was mind boggling to me. We live in such a sex negative culture and people are not encouraged to ask questions and to get to know their bodies. For this reason I’m so excited about Wild Flower. We need more businesses like this which destigmatize sexuality and provide a space for accurate and judgement free information. Working within the realm of sexuality and education was honestly so rewarding. It’s something I definitely want to get into again.
If you had to give your younger self a piece of sexual advice for the future, what would it be?
Growing up I struggled with an eating disorder and severe depression. I lost my virginity at a young age but I was never assertive or vocal about what I wanted during sex. My attitude was that sex was expected so I might as well just get it over with. Because my self - esteem was so low for so long, my enjoyment wasn’t really a priority. That extended to not even wanting to be touched for a time. If I could tell my younger self something it would be to be less focused on being perfect! Porn and media plays such a huge roll in that. When we’re young we see depictions of how people are “supposed” to look and act during sex and it shapes the way we feel about ourselves. Mainstream porn is so performative and it teaches women that it’s not about our pleasure. The older I get, the more I realize that communicative sex makes for way, way better sex and nobody’s body is perfect.
What are you goals for the future? Where do you see the development of your photography heading?
My long term and short term goals for photography are to continue to create content which inspires and empowers folks. I feel very connected to everyone I photograph and for me it’s a very personal process. I hope that soon I can support myself working as a photographer full time and I strive to go as far as possible with this. As a marginalized person I feel it is my obligation to put my work out there unapologetically. I want to change the way other marginalized people are portrayed and I want to continue to create a narrative which speaks to people.
Simone's photography can be seen throughout our website and Instagram.
Simone on Instagram - @simone.niamani