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David Magnusson


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When I first heard about Purity Balls I imagined angry American dads sitting on their porches with shotguns in their laps, afraid of anything that could hurt their daughters. But the more I read about the girls and their fathers who had participated in the ceremonies, I was surprised to realise how much I recognised myself in them.

For me, Purity is about how we are shaped by the society

I understood that the fathers wanted the absolute best for their children, and that they used what they had learned from their culture and their religion to be as good a parent and model as possible. Quite simply, they wanted to protect their loved ones in the best possible way. In addition, it was often the girls who had suggested that they would go to the ball. They made their decisions based on their convictions and their faith, sometimes with fathers who did not know what a Purity Ball was before they were invited by their daughters.

I was surprised that my initial reaction was so strong and that I was so quick to judge people I knew so little about. The idea struck me that what separated us was perhaps only the way in which we had been influenced by the culture in which we grew up and the values it had instilled in us.

In Purity I have tried to take photographs of the girls and their dads that are so beautiful that they can look at them with pride – while someone from a different background will perhaps see a completely different story in the very same photograph. For me, Purity is about how we are shaped by the society in which we grow up and how we interpret the world through the values we incorporate as our own. I believe that our view of the world around us is formed by where we come from, where we have been, and who we believe that we are – and that one of our biggest challenges is to try to understand that which seems most strange to us.

Young girls who attend a Purity Ball make a vow to remain sexually abstinent until marriage, “to remain pure and live pure lives before marriage”. Their fathers sign a document in which they promise to protect their daughters in their choices. Many of them exchange rings as a symbol of their vows.

David Magnusson has photographed and interviewed young girls and their fathers who participated in Purity Balls in Louisiana, Colorado and Arizona, in 2011.