Review of Purity (Bokförlaget Max Ström, 2014) for The Brooklyn Rail by David Magnusson.

Purity by David Magnusson

Purity by David Magnusson

Believing that I am worth waiting for, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to a lifetime of purity including sexual purity from this day until the day I enter a committed, faithful, lifetime marriage.”

—A Daughter’s Purity Pledge

Purity balls are Christian ceremonies, during which fathers and daughters exchange promises to protect their purity mentally (by abstaining from knowledge) and physically (by abstaining from sexual experience). In 2010, Swedish photographer, David Magnusson, became fascinated with the American ritual and began taking portraits of the attendees. Over the years, a handful of these images have been widely circulated and almost unanimously scorned by those, the photographed refer to as, swimming with the current in “mainstream society.” Now collected into a photography monograph, Magnusson’s first, he presents 28 color portraits of fathers and daughters in Purity that are as remarkable for their luminosity as they are for their subject matter.

In his artist statement, Magnusson expresses, “My purpose hasn’t been either to belittle or glorify the ceremonies—the interpretation is all up to the eye of the viewer.” In Purity, Magnusson does offer observers the opportunity to witness a public display of purity so profound it may stir even the most strident of viewers to examine their personal beliefs. However, in focusing on the artwork itself, specifically the photographic method—that vigilantly controls for light, composition, time, and exhibition—photography becomes a provocative medium in which to reflect upon the current phenomenon of purity balls.

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