The meteoric rise of Instagram brought faded, high-contrast pictures back into style. What the camera-making industry had moved very consciously away from was unexpectedly back in vogue, just in time for cellphone cameras to replace point-and-shoots in most people’s pockets and purses. This ushered in an age of photos that are more often than not hastily and badly composed, blurry, and poorly lit. A contrary trend from this same period is the revival of pin-up photography.
The pin-up aesthetic was most in vogue in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s, and especially thrived in the post-World War II muscle car period, when new dyes and the end of wartime rationing begat a thriving fashion industry. Flashy cars, striking poses, and eye-catching advertising were the name of the game – things very much in style again today, but with a newly feminist, pro-woman and pro-body edge. Here in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis-based Grinkie Photography has taken pin-up photography to all the way to cult status.
How popular have pinups become around town? Enough for almost 450 Grinkie Girls (as they call themselves) to have posed for portraits with photographer Christi Williams in four years. Enough for Williams to run themed pin-up photoshoots around the country and on trips overseas to distant countries as far away as South Africa. Enough to hold a celebratory vintage bash this Friday at the Fine Line Cafe, a themed dance featuring jazz blues band Davina and the Vagabonds. This Grinkie Prom might be considered the culmination of everything to date – but the girls (and a few guys) keep coming in, so it’s really more of a milestone on an ongoing road.
Williams, a former Peace Corps volunteer and Peace Corps recruiter, didn’t set out at first to bring back eye-catching photos with visuals that pop – or to be a photographer at all. After leaving the Peace Corps, she married and first concentrated on raising a growing family. Some years down the road, her family lost its point-and-shoot pocket camera; before they could replace it, a conscientious in-law later gifted Williams with a Canon Digital Rebel – her first SLR camera. In a cascading chain of events, she began shooting weddings, engagement photos, and more. Then, six months in, she wandered into a boudoir workshop where one of the presenters mentioned pin-up photography and the wide range of things encompassed in this visual aesthetic.
Although pin-ups are quintessentially sexy, the full spectrum ranges from just fun and playful to explicit. The pin-up aesthetic is broad enough to include the iconic Rosie the Riveter poster (itself frequently imitated and recreated in pin-up sessions) on one extreme and to have inspired some 1950s Playboy photos on the other – and many things in-between. Williams stocks an expanding wardrobe of vintage costumes and props that Grinkie Girls can draw on for the flavors that suit them, and encourages them to be playful as she guides them through crafting a character that they can embody in a shoot.
Becoming a Grinkie Girl can be just as much about the mindset and playing dress-up as it is about the preparation and mindset. Some people come in with a personality or image pre-established; pinup model Brady Bombshell is one of Williams’ regular clients, with an established stage (or studio, if you prefer) character from years of modeling before she became a Grinkie Girl. Sometimes it’s the occasion, as with many bachelorette parties; others, a special outing; sometimes, even, as a surprise date. More than a few men, not wanting to be left out of the fun, have wandered into the studio and donned drag for sessions, becoming Grinkie Girls for a day. Perhaps, as the studio motto goes, Grinkie Girls do have more fun.
So how does this path lead to putting on a prom? In an interview, Williams described the growth of her business as being driven by social networks, with friends telling friends and approaching her about organizing Grinkie Girls events. A shoot with Brody Bombshell led to Brody organizing a shoot up near Lake Superior; other Grinkie Girls and friends of Grinkie Girls have brought Williams out for themed shoots across the country and even overseas. As the 400th Grinkie Girl milestone approached, then, it was natural to put out a call for ideas on Facebook. Prom quickly topped the list, some friends signed up to be organizers, and Williams headed to Ebay for the perfect vintage 1940s prom dress.
Reflecting on her work, Williams noted, “I’d never been to any stripper situation before this job.” Other previously uncrossed paths that she can now check off include shooting B-movie monsters, families struggling with cancer, people celebrating weight loss, professional portfolios and headshots, and book clubs looking for something fun and interesting to shake up the routine. “A lot of the people who come in are in their 30s and 40s,” she said. “This is just another option for something crazy you can do with your friends…a memory maker.”
Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.