Photographer • Founder of Suicide Girls • Empowering Women Around the World
The name Suicide girls is a term derivative of committing “social suicide” and breaking from the norm. It is a movement that embraces empowerment for women around the world. Founded in 2001 by Selena Mooney (“Missy Suicide”) and Sean Suhl (“Spooky”) in Portland Oregon. Missy Suicide continues to inspire women around the world as she broke from the norm to be unique and carve her space with a modern twist.
Talk to us about the origin and background of Suicide Girls and what inspired you to start the web site suicidegirls.com.
Suicide girls was started in Portland Oregon in the summer of 2001. Portland is where I grew up, technically in Beaverton but I spent a lot of time downtown. I was inspired by Bunny Yeager and photos of Bettie Page to start the Suicide Girls site. There is something so interesting to me about the female gaze. Bunny Yeager would take photos of Bettie Page two seconds before or after when she was in her most natural position. I thought there was something so beautiful and unique about those images and how she could be so confident and comfortable while enjoying herself in the photos. I thought that was something that I could find strength in and so I started to photograph my friends around Portland in similar poses. At the time most girls with piercings and tattoos where photographed in a very harsh light with white seamless backgrounds, usually in a BDSM style. It was really important to me to photograph the women in the way they felt sexy about themselves, in a natural sort of setting, so I would photograph them waking up in bed or taking a bath and really try to give them that confidence. It’s different from how you think of yourself then how other people see you.. ya know. If you can see how other people see you, then you gain a certain level of confidence, especially when people appreciate you. I wanted to give that confidence to my friends and level of comfort with a reflection back on me. HOW DID YOU TRANSITION FROM PHOTOGRAPHY TO AN ONLINE PLATFORM?
It was tough before social media sites like Tumbler, Twitter, Instagram, and MySpace… It took a little bit of convincing for people to share thoughts and feelings online. At the time it was like a playground for serial killers and perverts and they were the only people who used the internet and if you shared your information online a serial killer was going to show up at your door. Anything you put online was going to go down on your permanent record and be used against you, so people were pretty reluctant to share at that point. WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPED CHANGE THE STIGMA of SHARING ONLINE?
Growing up in Beaverton, I was kinda like an outsider and had different beliefs then everyone around me. I felt very alone but online there were people around the world growing up in all sorts of communities that also felt alone and if you could find each other though the internet then you felt less alone. AN ONLINE CONNECTION? Yes, they had similar experiences growing up in Brazil, Spain, Italy or wherever they were… they also felt like an outsider. So when you find a community of like minded people you feel less alone in the world.
Do you remember the moment where Suicide Girls Became a movement for Empowering young woman around the world?
We all think like there’s that one moment where our life changes and everything gets better. But I believe life is a series of learning experiences and everyday things change a little bit and you have that power to make change. You still have to wake up the next day and make it all happen. I totally wish there was that one moment where I can say I got it all figured out. I felt my whole young adult life I was trying to level up and beat the big boss and I would go onto the next level and my life would be awesome and live happily ever after. Things were hard at the beginning but everyday I feel like things got a little better and a little easier but life is a lot of work in general. You have to work at making things better and different.
We will be heading to Tempe, AZ. this week to check out Suicidegirls Blackheart Burlesque which is on tour around the nation. Can you talk to us more about the show and idea behind the theme.
So Blackheart Burlesque is a pop culture themed burlesque show which means all the numbers are themed around movies, video games, comic books or tv shows. It takes the classic sexy spirit of traditional burlesque and puts a definitive twist on it. It’s very modern and choreographed, with girls that sing as well as girls that are contortionists while staying true to the positive spirit of classic burlesque. In the same way we updated the traditional pin up photo, we put a modern twist on it, we updated the classic burlesque with a modern twist on it as well. It’s unlike any other burlesque show that you’re likely to see.
I remember my first Burlesque show in the early 2000’s at Dante’s Sinferno in Downtown Portland off Burnside, where I first was introduced to Suicide girls like many others. What was your involvement and how has Suicide Girls evolved?
Yes we had a regular weekly night on Sundays. I feel like the same way the photos have evolved on the website and all our experimentations at Dante’s in general, have helped us to get to where we are now. The girls at Dante’s weren’t doing traditional burlesque. They added their own spin with wacky bunny suites, chocolate sauce, glitter or baby powder. It was definitely experimental and I feel like we have taken that same sort of experimentation, refined it over the years and made something wholly unique and beautiful. I am so proud of the girls that are out on tour because they are all so diverse. They have their own unique strengths and interpretations with an amazing crew.
What are the next milestones and goals for yourself and Suicide girls?
It would be great if we could have a permanent home based club. I am trying to write a book as well… an autobiography but it’s not finished yet. I THINK WRITING IS SO TOUGH IN COMPARISON to PHOTOGRAPHY. It’s so tough!! With a photograph it’s like a moment you have captured and you can’t change the future or the past, with writing it’s there forever. I took an Irish history course in college and remember that history was written by the victors except for the Irish because they had told the best stories and their version of history is remembered as well… but it’s like telling the best story with a million different viewpoints and you only get one shot at it. Oh gosh!! I definitely appreciate all the writers out there.
HOUSEINK QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS
What’s a perfect Saturday night for you?
Man. The perfect Saturday night is watching a horror movie, going out to dinner with my family, coming home and having fun with my husband then going to sleep early.
Funny you should mention horror movie. If you were a horror movie what would it be?
I would like to be a Blumhouse movie because they put a unique twist on the genre. Everything that they do has a unique twist on it. So I would like to have that unique twist. I like to tell a story in a different way.
What is really hard for you to say no to?
It’s really hard for me to say no to new projects. It’s really hard for me to say no to the girls and good ideas. It’s hard for me to say no to life, although my kids would differ. They say I say no all the time. (laughs) I’m lucky enough to be be presented with amazing opportunities and surrounded by people that I love and are inspired by everyday. So it’s really hard to say no when they come up with really cool ideas.
What quote do you turn to for inspiration?
The one that I go to for practical work inspiration is “release early and revive often” from Steve Jobs. It’s not so much inspiration but a work horse quote. Keep your head down, keep putting stuff out there for the world and don’t be afraid of changing it up. Don’t be afraid of the initial reaction, just put it out there. Put your ideas out there. Keep changing them, keep perfecting them, keep revising them.
Do you have any advice for young woman starting in the industry and working on their portfolio with different photographers?
I feel like compromise your vision for what you want. I admire photographers like Annie Leibowitz and her passion to paint your portrait with her camera but for the most part when you’re starting out and trying to establish who you are, you shouldn’t compromise what you want. The photographer should be there to capture what is unique and beautiful without putting their twist on you. In the digital age where we are, so many of the Suicide Girls and different models have made a career for themselves doing what they love and people appreciate that. I feel like when creating a space for myself that wasn’t a traditional path, there was no established media site for female photography sessions. When creating a space that was wholly and unique, was what I was passionate about and wanted to share with the world. It has created so much more opportunity in the world to do what they love for a living. I feel like people should carve out their own space and if you don’t fit into the traditional mold, don’t worry about it. Carve out what you love and do that well.
Tell us about your start in photography and your intro into shooting for Suicide Girls.
I was always interested in photography but had been raised to think a job in the arts wasn’t a “real job”. I got involved with SuicideGirls as a hobby at first when I started as a model and a model recruiter back in 2005, while I was still working at another job. After five years of modeling, recruiting girls and assisting a friend who was a staff photographer, I decided to return to school for photography. A few years later, I started shooting sets myself.
What was it like on your first shoot and what inspires you today?
I was a school teacher for ten years before I attended a SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque show in Columbus Ohio in 2005. It was then that I decided to shoot a set for SuicideGirls myself and it completely change my life.
Being a photographer for SuicideGirls means that I am constantly inspired by the women I work with. I meet girls from all over the world who aren’t afraid to step outside of the box that our society tries to put them in and just do what is right for them. I also have so many more opportunities to travel than I used to. There are SuicideGirls in every country so when I want to go anywhere or do anything in my country or anywhere else on this planet, there is a network of SuicideGirls there to give me advice, show me around their city, and sometimes even host me in their home.
As a manger for the burlesque tour, I am inspired by the women I travel with who are all living their dream of dancing professionally as a heavily tattooed woman who was told she’d never get a job dancing with tattoos.
How has being a suicide girls photographer shaped the person you are today?
My world is so much bigger. I have been exposed to a global community of strong, independent women who support each other instead of competing. We share our views on politics, support each other businesses and form friendships that I could have never dreamed of having. I used to worry a lot about what people thought of me and try to conform to society’s standards but since finding SuicideGirls, I do what makes me happy and am a lot more willing to choose the road less traveled.
You have traveled across the United States touring with Blackheart Burleque. Can you tell us about one of your most memorable moments on the tour?
As tour manager for SuicideGirls, I’ve toured the USA six different times to over 60 cities in 10 weeks. I’ve also toured Germany, Canada and Australia for 3 weeks each. Its hard to pick out a single memory that stands out to me because its been an amazing six years. What I am most proud of overall is the fact that every one of those trips was completely female run. From the girls in the office who book, route and promote the tour, their support while we are on the road, to the choreographer, creative director who creates the routines, lighting cues and music, to the costume designer who designs and acquires every costume and prop, to the dancers, the emcee, the merch girls, the stage hands, the tour manager, the accountant, all the way up to the creator of SuicideGirls, Missy, who runs the whole operation. Everyone on our crew is a woman.
If I had to choose one memory I guess it would be the time George R. R. Martin (author of the Game of Thrones series) asked us to perform at his theater in Santa Fe, New Mexico and then had dinner with us after the show. It was an amazing experience to have such a talented author recognize our production and extend such a warm welcome. We are returning for a second performance again this year!!
What’s in store over the next year for you?
To be honest, I’m not exactly sure. Thanks to touring for the past six years, I only plan for about three months ahead at a time. Regardless of where I am, I definitely plan to continue traveling and empowering as many women as I can through my photography and my involvement with SuicideGirls.