Ethan James Green’s New Photo Book Wants to Redefine the Bombshell

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Bombshell by Ethan James Green
GabriellaPhotography by Ethan James Green

Captured around the world, the American photographer’s new book is a celebration of queer bodies and identities, proving that “anyone who wants to be a bombshell can be a bombshell”

What defines a ‘bombshell’? From the sirens of old Hollywood to bikini-clad late arrivals at the Love Island villa, throughout modern visual culture the trope has been unified by a few key qualities: mystery, femininity and, most of all, a beguiling force of sexual power. The bombshell is the subject of New York photographer Ethan James Green’s spellbinding new book, for which he has invited several close friends and collaborators to embody the spirit of the word in whichever way they want. With blown-out wigs by hair stylists Lucas Wilson, Sonny Molina, and Jimmy Paul as the only starting point for each portrait, the book features an all-star cast of fashion industry figures and trans and non-binary New York icons, including actress and cover girl Hari Nef, model Molly Constable, artist Connie Fleming, and model and stylist Dara Allen.

Bombshell is Green’s second title, marking a follow up to his tender 2019 book Young New York, which captured a number of young queer creatives on the precipice of success in the city. Shot predominantly in Corlears Hook Park on the eastern edge of Manhattan and the residential streets which surround it, Young New York is an early example of what makes Green’s photography so special; timeless, achingly beautiful black and white portraits that capture people in all their strength, vulnerability and truth. Several years later, Bombshell sees a return to many of the same faces, and is perhaps best described by Devan Díaz – who both appears in the book and authors its foreword – as a “yearbook” of the photographer’s familiars and friends. “Just everyone’s a little bit older and a little bit more sensual,” Green tells AnOther over Zoom. 

Captured in cinematic locations around the world, from Barcelona to Paris, but mostly shot in Green’s New York studio, Bombshell presents a celebration of queer bodies and identities which upend tired stereotypes – once defined in ‘blonde’, straight and cis parameters – to include everyone. “It started in the summer of 2021,” Green says of the project, which took almost exactly a year to complete. “I was doing a hair test with my friends Lucas Wilson, who’s a hair-artist, and Marcs [Goldberg], who’s a set designer and art director. I have also photographed Marcs many times and she was on the cover of my first book. We were just doing a hair play day and we just kept on saying the word ‘bombshell’, and something just clicked. Instantly, I knew who I wanted to photograph and who I wanted to pull in.”

For the most part self-styled in lingerie and DIY outfits by each sitter, who appear in various stages of undress, the resulting portraits range from wild and playful to sultry and serene. In one particularly amazing series of images, Dara Allen swings from a post at a New York crossing wearing only a bikini, pedestrians floating obliviously through the streets behind her; elsewhere, bombshells dance and smoke on rooftops, pose nymph-like in woodlands and lie repose on beaches. “There was something freeing about it in a way,” says Green of the project. “As a creative, you do sometimes hit a wall, and a time comes to evolve and grow. A big thing was kind of loosening things up and going a little bit more cinematic, because my approach was always, ‘It’s just the person, nothing else exists.’ In a way, it was about a setting just as much as it is about the bombshell. It opens up for an instant narrative, which is something that I want to keep on pursuing.

While the project allowed Green to explore new shores of creativity, the portraits in Bombshell still hold a rare depth of intimacy - something which has been a signature of the photographer’s work since the start of his career. This is partly because he sees his practice as a form of collaboration, where trust and connection make the difference between “a good picture and an incredible one”. It’s no surprise, then, why he always returns to photographing friends. “It just always feels genuine and effortless,” he explains. “I think that there were moments that we would shoot and something would come over the room … Everyone got so into this energy; people just really felt it. We were going from laughing to gasping, it was this crazy thing, but we were all just gagged by the experience. It’s almost like jumping into fantasy.”

In the years between Young New York and this book, a lot has changed professionally for Green and several of those in his world - he has become one of the industry’s most sought-after image-makers; Nef, who he met outside of a club in the mid-2010s, has become a global star; and Allen, then an emerging stylist, is now fashion director at Interview. And, while there’s still a long way to go, real change has taken place regarding trans and non-binary representation in the wider world, too. “I’ve talked with a lot of friends about this, and a lot of them would know directly,” Green says. “It’s shifted dramatically even from when a lot of my friends first moved to the city. It’s crazy. It’s great. I think the big thing now is allowing people to exist in pictures, in spaces, in advertising without having to explain themselves. That’s the next step - they just need to be able to exist and be there because they’re the best person for the job.”

And, while Green says Bombshell is “really at the end of the day just friends having fun”, it also, like so much of his work, offers a space where those who have previously been pushed to the fringes are brought to the fore. He hopes those who see it are able “to see themselves, to change a perspective on a word that was so limiting but can be so much more, that covers everybody. Anyone who wants to be a bombshell can be a bombshell,” he says. “That’s what it’s about.”

Bombshell is published by Baron Books and is available for pre-order now.