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. David Magnusson has 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.”
Purity was financed by the Swedish Committee of the Arts and was awarded The Scanpix Grant, Sweden, 2011, Portrait of the Year Sweden, 2012, The Documentary Photography Award, Sweden, 2013, and was selected by Markus Schaden for The Kassel Book Award – Best Books Of The Year in 2014. It has been featured in international media such as TIME Magazine, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Der Spiegel, Stern, BBC, Los Angeles Times and The Daily Mail.
The book Purity was published by Bokförlaget Max Ström in 2014 during the exhibition at Fotografiska—The Swedish Museum of Photography in Stockholm, and is available for pre-order at Amazon.