During a Purity Ball young girls promise to “live pure lives before God” and to remain virgins until marriage. In return, their fathers sign a commitment promising to protect their daughters’ chastity. Sometimes rings are exchanged as a symbol of their vows. I have photographed and interviewed young girls and their fathers who have participated in Purity Balls in Louisiana, Colorado and Arizona.
When I first heard about the Purity Balls I imagined angry American fathers terrified of anything that might hurt their daughters or their honor. But as I learnt more, I understood that the fathers, like all parents, simply wanted to protect the ones that they love – in the best way they know how. It was also often the girls themselves that had taken the initiative to attend the balls. They had made their decisions out of their own conviction and faith, in many cases with fathers who didn’t know what a Purity Ball was before being invited by their daughters.
The more I learned, the more I was surprised that I had been so quick to judge people I knew so little about. I was struck by the idea that what set us apart wasn’t anything more than how we had been influenced by the culture we grew up in and the values it had instilled in us. In Purity I wanted to create portraits so beautiful that the girls and their fathers could be proud of the pictures in the same way they are proud of their decisions – while someone from a different background might see an entirely different story in the very same photographs.
To me, Purity is a project about trying to understand how we are shaped by the society we grow up in and how we interpret the world through the values we incorporate as our own.
David Magnusson (1983) lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden. He studied at the Nordic School of Photography Biskops-Arnö with Anna Clarén, Anders Petersen, and Thomas Wågström as mentors. His first monograph Purity was published by Max Ström in March 2014 during the exhibition at Fotografiska in Stockholm. Purity has received several awards and has been featured in international media such as The Guardian, Huffington Post, TIME Magazine, Der Spiegel, BBC, Los Angeles Times and The Daily Mail.