Almost every individual I have ever met tries (and usually fails) to appear as if they have it together all of the time. I, too, have attempted to accomplish this exceptional feat and have failed miserably. Who really has it all together, all of the time? Well, I will tell you. It is this week’s Interview star, Mazzy Bell.
Okay, I lied. Even Mazzy doesn’t have it all together. But she sure carries herself like it. This phenomenal photographer, visual artist, feminist, and all around badass babe seems to have mastered the art of having everything figured out while not having anything together at all. Contradictory? Of course. But there is no better way to describe the one and only Mazzy Bell. We sat down to interview this talented girl on all things art, feminism, clothing, and more.
PULL THIS OFF: I absolutely love your Flickr and your portfolio website, especially. What made you start these sites?
MAZZY BELL: My website, The High School Years, started originally as a book. Last September, I bought an eight by eleven sketchbook and began filling it with all kinds of images and mixed media pieces. Over the year it kind of just began to fall apart because I constantly had it with me and was always throwing it around. That's when I came up with idea for the website. It's a lot more permanent and easily maintained than the book is, seeing as it is virtual. As far as Flickr goes, I think everyone should have one. They began giving out a terabyte of space to everyone for free which is an insane amount of storage…I'm pretty sure it's 1,000 gigabytes.
PTO: How did you come up with the name “The High School Years?”
MB: The back-story to the name "The High School Years" is a lot less exciting than you probably think. I titled the site and book that solely because everything I have been creating has taken place during high school. I plan on finished the project around the end of senior year (Spring 2014), staying true to the name.
PTO: You have a very sophisticated visual aesthetic that is instantly recognizable across mediums. It’s insightful, ’70s psychedelia and ‘90’s grunge, mixed with subliminal messages and a very dark edge. Where does this style come from?
MB: My artistic style has definitely progressed over the years. My work actually used to be a lot darker, I guess around my freshman year of high school. I kind of realized that there's no point in things being dark though if you're not trying to make a point. All of my work has meaning behind it and it hasn't always been that way. I started to develop my own style about three years ago and it's really transformed dramatically. I guess that’s where the "grunge" feel kind of comes into play. A lot of my photographs have this sort of badass-esque feel to them, which is something I've really experimented with recently.
PTO: Tell me about a recent project you worked on that you’re really proud of.
MB: Just this past month I had a shoot with the intentions of portraying the decent out of innocence. I really wanted to highlight the kind of transition from childhood to becoming a teenager because a lot of times I think that whole sort of process is very undermined. Two of the images that really resonated with me where actually diptychs that I had put together in the editing process. They each show a young girl on one side and then and inanimate object on the other. The correlation of the girls to objects are really powerful and really get the message across about what I was trying to depict. Another really cool thing I've been working on is an Etsy site with my best friend. The brand is called Babyteeth and we should have a few things coming out with in the next week or so.
PTO: You have so many exciting things going on! Who or what inspires you?
MB: Wow, ok, literally so many things. I cannot even begin to tell you all the things that inspire me because the list would go on and on. Recently, though, Petra Collins, one of my biggest photography role models, designed a line of shirts for American Apparel. One of the shirts was literally nothing more than a line drawing of a vagina and period blood and for some reason everyone freaked out about it. There were tons of news articles about the shirt and everyone just had their panties in a huge bunch over absolutely nothing. I guess it kind of seems silly, but that really inspired me. I love controversial work and I'm hoping one day my photography will be strong enough to rile up the establishment like Petra's shirt did.
PTO: What kind of messages do you want to send with your work?
MB: This kind of pertains to the previous question and it varies from piece to piece but the most part I try to send out relatable messages. As I said before, a lot of my work deals with teenagehood, which is obviously something everyone goes through.
PTO: Your style has clearly resonated with people. Can you tell me about the first time you realized you had a lot of influence?
MB: During sophomore year I wrote this spoken word piece about eating disorders and society's view on perfect. I later made it into a video and posted it on Vimeo. It got over 2000 views and people kept messaging me, telling me how much it impacted them. Looking back, it didn't seem like that big of a deal at the time but now I'm fairly blown away with how many people watched it and reacted to it.
PTO: I’ve also observed that a lot of your work and the messages you put out are very feministic. Would you call yourself a feminist?
MB: Yes! Of course I would call myself a feminist. In my opinion, everyone should. For some reason, everyone assumes that feminism is this whole insane idea about how women should be portrayed. You know, like the whole "burn your bras!" and "don't shave your legs!" kind of thing. That's not at all what feminism is though. Feminism is the radical notion that women are people. In other words, it is the idea that men and women are equal. A lot of people are uneducated on what the feminist movement actually is which is why I think so many people look down on it. Really though, everyone should consider themselves a feminist. It's 2013, if you don't think women and men are equal then you are clearly missing something here.
PTO: In your opinion, what is wrong with the way women are portrayed in the media?
MB: I could speak about this topic for days on end. There are so many things that are wrong about women being portrayed in media, it’s absurd. Basically, every billboard, every commercial, every magazine, every newspaper, every everything thinks that is okay to over-sexualize women. They also think its ok to alter the women's bodies and faces to make them appear "prettier" or "more perfect". No one has ever complained about it. Everyone has thought it was perfectly okay. The thing is though, that these images and photographs are literally killing people. Women and young girls are tearing themselves apart to look like a completely unrealistic version of a person. And it's not just women either; media does the exact same thing with men as well. My favorite was when Miley danced during the VMAs. America went fucking wild. They said "How can she do this to herself?" and "What was she thinking?" which really just drove me insane. These people are saying that its so totally fine for media to over-sexualize women for the purpose of selling a product but when a women chooses to over-sexualize herself, well, now we've got an issue. I honestly think that what Miley did was brave and I absolutely love her for it.
PTO: How heavily would you say fashion influences what you create?
MB: Recently a lot of my photography has actually been fairly fashion based. This is a new thing that I've just learned to do and I think over time my work will definitely become a lot more heavily fashion based, but for now, not so much.
PTO: What exciting upcoming projects or plans are on the horizon for you? What are you working on now?
MB: Like I said previously, I just started a sort of "company" with my best friend, Zoe. We sell a bunch of shirts, buttons, jewelry, stuff like that. A lot of it is feminism-based but there are also some things that are just really goofy and fun. Zoe is the most creative person I know and I am beyond excited to have started something like this with her.
PTO: Any advice for aspiring artists?
MB: I'm honestly terrible at advice. I guess my main thing would be to stay out of others people business. I've missed a lot of opportunities to have really cool relationships with people because I always felt compelled to compete with them artistically. I know it sounds silly but I definitely could have made some really cool collaborative art over the years if I choose to be mature about things and not just hate people because they're good at art. I don't know. Sometimes I can be an asshole.
PTO: Let’s move onto your personal life! Tell me a little bit about yourself: What do you like to do with your friends for fun? What do you want to accomplish in life? Where do you see yourself in ten years? What do you do when you’re not making art? Stuff like that.
MB: This is such a multifaceted question. Ok. Well, I'm currently a senior in high school and living in the suburbs of Philly. I hate high school. It seriously sucks so much. Most of my friends are in college by now which I don't mind because college is a lot more fun than high school. Umm, concerts. We are always at concerts. The music scene in Philly is absolutely bananas and there are always bands playing small shows. On top of that, all of my friends are actually in bands so that’s really cool as well. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Art? Does that count? I'm in the process of working that out as we speak but hopefully I'll do some really cool stuff in the future that I'll be able to brag about to my kids when I'm older. Ten years from now I have no idea where I'll be. I barely know where I'll even be next year. I just finished applying early decision to Maryland Institute College of Art so I'm kind of freaking out until I hear back from them, which won't be until December. Keeping my fingers crossed though!
PTO: Talk me through your usual day.
MB: Okay, well typically, my alarm goes off around 6:15 every morning and I usually don't get out of bed until around half and hour later. I get dressed, brush my teeth, very rarely brush my hair, get in the car and drive to school. My schedule at school is very relaxed, out of the seven classes I have daily I take 4 art classes and have one study hall. The only other classes I take are British Literature and AP US Government, but I do really enjoy both of those classes. At the end of the day I normally come home and take a nap because I'm really, really lazy. That's kind of it honestly. On the weekends I'll take the train to Temple University to see everyone and have really good pizza.
PTO: I am always obsessed with your hair color. It’s always changing! Have you always had fun with your hair? How long have you been playing around with colors?
MB: Thank you! This is the first time in a while it’s relatively normal actually. I just recently shaved the back of my head, which is pretty cool. Plus, it makes my hair seem a lot thinner than it is. Um, I think I first dyed my hair in 7th grade. I had this really lame purple streak running down the side of my head and I thought I was the shit. Since then my hair has been blonde, red, orange, green, blue, turquoise, purple, like ten different shades of pink, brown, and now boring auburn. I do really like this color though; it's very suiting for fall. At one point, I actually had an undercut. Looking at old pictures of that is really embarrassing, though. It was definitely not as cool as I thought.
PTO: Do you like fashion or do you think it’s shallow?
MB: I love fashion. I have a really horrible obsession with clothes actually. I used to share this really big closet with my younger sister, Raven, but over the years I've accumulated so much clothing that I actually have the closet all to myself now. I love 90's grunge fashion as well as a lot of stuff from the '60's.
PTO: How would you describe your personal style?
MB: My personal style doesn't really tend to stay consistent. I'll go from wearing only black for a week to wearing really obnoxiously printed clothing and platform sneakers. My style is kind of all over the place. I love velvet. A lot. My favorite thing I own though is this really cool turquoise skirt I got at this really small thrift store near my house. First of all, it was three dollars and should have definitely been more than that. It’s gorgeous. My favorite thing about it though is that it's a 32, meaning it’s a high-waisted skirt for someone a lot bigger than me. Considering I'm super small, though, it actually fits me as a normal skirt. Just another thing I love about it.
PTO: How does art influence your personal style?
MB: I'm not sure that art really influences my personal style all that much other than the fact that every item of clothing I own has paint on it.
PTO: What music do you have on heavy rotation right now?
MB: There are so many albums that I love right now. My boyfriend made me this mixtape for my birthday a few weeks ago and he put this band The Shakey Graves on it. I became completely infatuated with their EP, Donor Blues, and am constantly listening to them when I get a chance. This really cool band, Marietta, just put out a new album called Summer Death and it's fucking amazing. It's my go-to train ride music.
All images courtesy of Mazzy Bell.