Fine Art Photo Series Honors Women for International Women's Day [NSFW]

Fine Art Photo Series Honors Women for International Women's Day [NSFW]

What started as an innocuous trip to the craft store ended with myself and a model sitting in my studio with tears running down our faces. I shouldn’t say that it ended there, though, because the first session of A Woman’s Soul was only the beginning of a month-long process of emotional vulnerability, bravery, and change.

When I first saw the little dollhouse windows in the craft store, I thought that they were cute little things and that they were just about the perfect size to fit on someone’s chest. Then I went about my business, bought my supplies, and left the store. The thought wouldn’t go away, though, and I found myself thinking about the possibilities during the next few weeks and months.

I realized, toward the end of 2017, that I was nearing a turning point in my work. The desire to create art that had meaning, that would impact, touch, and connect with other people had fundamentally altered not only what I wanted to create, but how I wanted to create it. Embracing this change, I turned to the idea of the window.

They say that eyes are the window to the soul, but if someone actually had a metaphorical window in their chest, what would you see inside? Well, I thought, you’d probably see what affected them most; you’d see the marks of something that had a powerful impact on their inside being. At that moment, my fine art project, A Woman’s Soul, was born.

Having worked with models for years, my first instinct was to find professionals who would be used to the process and comfortable posing nude from the waist up. I quickly realized, though, that taking that route would be antithetical to the very purpose of the series. My intention was for the image creation and the final photographs themselves to be as raw and vulnerable in-purpose as possible—with the story being the important part—and that meant things very common in my work: carefully sculpted light, a skilled team of hair and makeup artists, and a carefully chosen model, would need to be altered. I decided to forego any alteration to the subject on my part—however the subject showed up was how I would photograph her—and decided I would use only volunteers who felt a deep connection to the series, as well as using very simple light and posing. The last thing I wanted people to do was look at the photograph and say, "that's beautiful light!" because it would distract from the true purpose: story. The series should focus on story above all.

When I began looking for volunteers, I let them choose from a list of metaphors I had created for each window. I gave no instruction other than to ask them to choose whichever they felt the most connected with, and asked whether they would be willing to share a bit of their story so that I would have a good idea why the metaphor they chose was a good fit. As soon as they started choosing and sharing the reasons behind their choices, I realized that this project was going to be much more profound and much more emotionally demanding, than I first suspected.

Social Anxiety

Rape. Abuse. Neglect. Betrayal. Hope. Belief. Love. Empathy. Death. Every woman had story that was tied deeply to her sense of self; not only to who she had been, but to who she was becoming. During each session, they bravely shared their full story with me, often spending much of the session in tears. In every case, almost as soon as the window I’d designed was affixed to their chests, emotion began to break the surface. To these women, there was something incredibly powerful about wearing the symbol of their stories on their skin. They bared their souls to me, and I had to be there to meet them emotionally, open and vulnerable so they would feel safe reliving their pain and sharing their hopes for the future growth that pain stimulated in their lives.

Escape

I don’t mind saying that, after the first few sessions, I was emotionally drained. I was sharing these women’s stories and being entrusted with their truths, and the pressure of knowing that I had to do them justice was staggering. This was a much bigger responsibility than making something pretty. I had to make something true, and I was suddenly afraid that I would let these brave women down.

Having purposefully taken such a large departure from the work and style I was used to forced me far outside my comfort zone, and while the fear of failure was—and is—incredibly real, the pain of the process was a strange part of the price I paid for the honor of being allowed to create the series.

Neglect

Now that that the project is finished, and I see it in it’s entirety, I can’t help but feel humbled and grateful that these seven women were brave enough to volunteer, and that they trusted me enough share their stories through my lens. I’m both honored, and in awe of each of these women, and I hope that viewers see in these souls a reflection of their own stories.

Rebirth

 What we created together is a peek into A Woman’s Soul: rebirth, social anxiety, love that hurts, self-neglect, finding freedom, selflessness, and a universe within.

Universe Within

Love hurts

An Open Spirit

Unique women.

Unique stories.

Unique souls.  

Universal truths.

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32 Comments

Emily Teague's picture

Really incredible!!

Nicole York's picture

Thank you so much, Emily!

Aaron Patton's picture

Love it! Great concept!

Nicole York's picture

I appreciate that, Aaron, thank you!

Marcos Assis Santos's picture

Strong. Reflective. Loved it. Congrats.

Nicole York's picture

Thank you

Studio 403's picture

Underwhelming from my perspective is by no means a criticism They don’t really tell a story without a video verbal response. I like the organic look and feel. I must confess the women victim thing is somewhat overplayed in this genre. What did Shakespeare say? “Thou doest protest to much. I would have rather seen this done in a video format to increase the thrust of their lives. I spent 7 yrs in professional therapy. I so discovered I was the maker for all my misery. Unwittingly, I let folks trample on me and use me. Not that the abusers were not culpable.

Nicole York's picture

The great thing about any kind of art is that it invites conversation between the creator, subject, and viewer. This series isn't meant to portray victimization, rather to explore what happens to our insides when circumstances affect us. I see this series less as a portrayal of victimization, and more of an act of looking at a person and saying "I see you."

Sean Shimmel's picture

Nicole, I am inspired by your soulful intellect throughout. Cogent compassion. And the beautiful portraiture accomplished just what you had intended.

Nicole York's picture

i appreciate that so much, Sean, thank you.

Wayne Denny's picture

This is a really cool idea/series, and I think the "Rebirth" & "Love Hurts" ones looks fantastic. However, I think the PS work on the others has at least one or two issues that distract away from the subject. The halos/blending on the first two in particular pulled my focus away from the subject, which I can imagine is the last thing you would want. It's a great concept, I would just refine some of the work before putting it on display (if that's your intent). Apologies in advance if this seems too harsh, but I honestly think with some little tweaks you could be submitting this for display in a gallery.

Nicole York's picture

I appreciate your observations, Wayne. I think part of the problem is that I shot and edited these to be best appreciated in large print, and when viewed in full size, what you see isn't actually a halo, it's a highlight on the skin separating the skin from the house texture (which is meant to look like it's growing up from underneath the skin) I should have considered that it wouldn't appear quite the same when viewed medium or smaller format, so that's certainly something I can adjust.
Thanks again!

Nicole, this series and your article explaining it brought tears to my eyes. It is so powerful and so beautiful and so True in the deepest sense of the word. Thank you for sharing this.

Nicole York's picture

I'm touched to know that this project connected with you, Ron. You're more than welcome.

Jon Miller's picture

Wow, after reading this I can see how this would affect you. It very well done, appreciated and executed.

Nicole York's picture

I appreciate that, Jon, thank you.

Brian Pernicone's picture

The emotion on the face of “Social Anxiety” is palpable. Incredibly well executed project, Nicole!

Nicole York's picture

She was in active tears as we shot, it was hard to photograph because it a strange way I almost felt like I was exploiting her emotion, even though that's what the series was about. I think that was part of what made this such a difficult series for me, but so rewarding in the end. Thank you, Brian!

The emotions you captured...just wow! No wonder this was difficult for you.

This is clearly inspired by Anya's Anti "Butterflies in my stomach".

Nicole York's picture

I've actually never seen this series, but I will go look for it now that you've mentioned it!

Nicole York's picture

Wow, just saw the video, what a beautiful image!

Great work!! Although it would be a crazy amount of work, I'd love to see it redone in camera with prosthetics. That would be epic.

Nicole York's picture

That would be amazing. I wish I knew someone who could pull that off!

Great, keep up!

Genius. Really something.

Strongly affecting. Literal windows to the souls. I ignored the technical aspects, and looked into souls. I can feel why you were in tears at the end of some sessions. Thank you for sharing these here.

Nicole York's picture

That's exactly what I was hoping for. Thank you, Kit.

Glen Grant's picture

It is always tough to hear these stories, even tougher as an artist to conceptualize and memorialize them as you have done. Kudos to you and the artistry but also on making their struggles understood.
For some of us this is others stories for others this has been their lives.

Nicole York's picture

Thank you so very much, Glen. The response to this series has been everything I hoped for, and I'm simultaneously humbled and grateful that these stories are being heard and affecting people.

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