Alexis Masino’s (C '20) Tinder profile may cause many swipers to do a double take. “Hi,” it reads. “I am here for a photo project, and a photo project only[...] **I will be in my underwear for the sake of the project.”
The Creative Writing and Photography concentrator created her Tinder to recruit participants for a project that lies at the intersection of photography and performance art. This past Saturday, she executed her vision, taking shot after shot of clothed men while a separate tripod captured her in action—wearing only her underwear. According to Alexis, this unconventional idea, first conceived in her Body Photography class with Professor Gabriel Martinez, centers around the theme of masculinity.
“I want to partially reverse the power dynamic of clothed men behind cameras photographing women in lingerie,” she explains. Her project switches the roles of each gender, yet maintains the striking contrast in clothing, resulting in an unsettling patriarchal balance. Though Alexis was initially unsure how the response on Tinder would be, she was more than surprised by the flow of people who expressed positive interest in her project.
It was a long road that led Alexis to the point of this bold undertaking. Her interest in photography started in preschool when she became obsessed with a Barbie Polaroid camera. Years later, in middle school, she discovered DSLRs. Alexis, a Philly native, would frequently visit sites such as Penn’s Landing along with her mother to snap photos with a beginner–level camera. Her passion carried on throughout high school, yet it was only when she arrived at Penn, contrary to intuition, that she began to see photography as a serious career path and potentially lucrative pursuit.
The class that most strongly nurtured her interest, Fashion Photography with Professor Tony Ward, featured in–studio photoshoots with fashion designers and models. If impressed with the results, designers such as K. Vaughn Scarves and Old School Shirt Makers New York would elect to use the students’ photos for advertisements or social media posts. The adventure wasn’t limited to the classroom. For a project, Alexis ventured backstage at the show From Drags to Riches at the sports bar Tabu in the Gayborhood to capture portraits of the drag queens before and after they went onstage. The result? Raw portraits of striking expressions and makeup.
To Alexis, photography has become an “unlimited form of self–expression” that involves both herself and others. She particularly admires how the medium’s flexibility lends itself to a myriad of purposes. “Photography can be straightforward, like a formal event photoshoot, or very abstract with the use of digital enhancement. There’s a line of what’s real and what’s not real,” she says.
Even outside of the classroom, though, Alexis often recruits her friends for photoshoots and also engages in client work. She is involved in Penn Appétit as a photographer and is pledging the environmental fraternity Epsilon Eta out of her passion for environmental issues—an interest she hopes to incorporate into her work sometime soon.
Down the line, Alexis sees an uncertain, but hopeful future in photography. “I need to make money,” she says. “I do that now working for clients, but not consistently.” After a in one of South Asia’s largest red light districts, she was initially drawn to photojournalism. However, after doing more research, she discovered substantial barriers to the career path for women, given the existence of traditional cultural mindsets in many countries about women’s place in society. For the coming years, she is eyeing a possible stint in editorial photography for magazines or publications.
But there’s one thing Alexis knows for sure: at the end of the day, she simply wants to continue taking photos, especially portraits. “Even if it’s just a picture, you are still connecting so much with whoever is there. There is a ton you can show in a person, things you might not expect that just come out,” she says. “Nothing compels me as much as photographing people.”