It has always been difficult for a woman photographer not to have her work automatically qualified as ‘feminine’, and it is well known that the male gaze has defined women in art throughout history. Yet, the growing importance of the female gaze in art, but also in all areas of life, enables us to see women through women’s eyes.
Artist Laura Stevens is one of these artists who have tried to push the portrayal of women further through her cinematic style. Born and raised in England, she currently lives in Paris, where she works as a photographic artist. She has exhibited worldwide and collaborates regularly with clients such as The Times Magazine, Le Monde, The Washington Post and Forbes magazine.
Stevens’ work is always pervaded by a sense of fiction, as many of her photographs consist of narrative portraits shot inside a house. The room itself is both a shelter and a kingdom, where women rest at peace or in sorrow. The domestic landscape thus becomes a background where themes of relationship, loss, and intimacy merge into a cinematic drama.
As she often pictures women alone in their private interiors, both physically and emotionally, Stevens’ choice of titles for her series is very revealing of her subject matter: Hotel Amour, Us Alone, A Woman’s Realm, Another November.
In one of her most acclaimed series, Another November, Stevens tried to create scenes of narrative as part of a wider story. Her aim was to describe the emotional journey of a woman after a break up, inspired from her own painful experience.
Photographing heartbreak is not easy. From actors and props, to locations and clothing, Stevens staged each scene like a film. Therefore, the lighting plays a central role in her work as it builds the tone of her images. Her use of artificial lights helps her shape a psychological tension where the sinister and dramatic match the sombre thoughts of the women. As a result, their mood seems to pervade their surroundings and vice versa, bound together in space and feelings forever.
Women are shown surrounded by textures and shapes, standing, sitting, staring, or smoking in silence. In this silence, we are reminded of the aesthetics of the Old Masters’ oil paintings. Infused with nostalgia, loss, and sorrow, Stevens’ photographs manage to turn ordinary situations, such as staring out of a window or sitting expressionless at a table, into artistic visions.
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Words: Pauline Schnoebelen
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