Student Spotlight: Photography MFA student Annie Hodgkins creates fragrance from own sweat

Annie Hodgkins is a graduate student at the University of Iowa who aims to quantify her everyday experiences through the medium of scent, including the odor of her own sweat.


Photo contributed by Annie Hodgkins.

Parker Jones, Arts Editor

Annie Hodgkins is creating a fragrance using many distinct odors — including from her own sweat.

The third-year University of Iowa photography Master of Fine Arts student developed the idea in response to the underrepresentation of women in museums and art canon and issues surrounding women’s autonomy, bodies, and agency. Over the last year, she has worked to make a fragrance from her everyday experiences, which includes her sweat.

Although her technical focus is photography, Hodgkins’ master’s show will be interdisciplinary with photos and sculpture in an overarching installation, including the fragrance.

“My work isn’t really what comes to mind when someone thinks of photography,” Hodgkins said. “I usually tell people I’m actually more of a multimedia artist and think more sculpturally than photographically.”

Hodgkins attributes her love for photography as a medium to the popularity of Instagram, which was new when she was in middle school. After seeing girls her age post their own artistic photos, she was inspired to try it out.

“I think I was always a very creative kid. However, growing up, I never really knew anyone who was actually interested in art,” Hodgkins said. “[Instagram] was the first time I ever saw photography treated in like an artistic expression. And, since then, I just remember being like, ‘I want to do that.’”

Hodgkins received her bachelor’s degree in photography from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2019. She became interested in fragrance as a hobby after working as a server and a barista in several upscale restaurants and bars.

As part of her job, she received training for how to smell and taste unique coffees and wines and learned how to detect certain notes of different fragrances. This led to Hodgkins learning about fragrances, which stayed in the back of her mind when she began her master’s at the UI.

Hodgkins said her work has shifted to be more “performative.” Over time, she said she realized that the act of making something was almost more important than the final product, so she wanted to incorporate the process itself into the product.

“A big part of my artistic practice conceptually revolves around alchemy, and these kind of concepts of feminine creation,” Hodgkins said. “I would use these photographic processes and mediums as a way to kind of echo that.”

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One of her inspirations, Hodgkins noted, was a story she heard about a 17th-century woman in Italy who made poisons to distribute to other women to kill their husbands. She worked on a project directly inspired by the real tale last year. Though she described the project as a “dead-end,” it moved her toward her current master’s project.

“I thought it was such an interesting story of community, and like this matrilineal lineage,” Hodgkins said. “I was really intrigued by this idea of, like, making these poisons from your house, like this kind of different kind of domestic labor.”

Her past project involved letting fruit arrangements rot before taking still-life images. She found that people who viewed it had many reactions to both the sculptural fruit installations and the stench that permeated from them.

“I would kind of watch their life cycles and kind of watch these beautiful kind of sculpture installations I made turn into something really disgusting and probably dangerous — definitely a biohazard,” Hodgkins said. “From a distance, you’d be looking at it this thing and still think it’s beautiful, but you would smell this stench. And so that kind of then snowballed into what I’m doing now.”

For Hodgkins’ project, she learned the perfumery process of enfleurage to create her fragrance. She said she aims to quantify her experience as a woman and an artist, accumulating everyday moments through an inventory of scent.

Through her work, Hodgkins hopes to bring more awareness to the feminine experience, especially as a woman in a field traditionally dominated by men. She noted that it wasn’t until 2021 that a woman artist broke into the top 10 bestselling visual artists.

“I began thinking about reproductive labor and domestic labor … there’s always been amazing [work from women]. And this work is so important, but it’s so unrecognized,” Hodgkins said. “Through that past work, I was like, ‘Wow.’ Like a stench really doesn’t lie.”