Few images stir up as many reactions as photographs of naked women. No matter who we are or what culture we belong to, seeing ladies in the buff seems to trigger a host of complicated feelings. The female body is continuously objectified or glorified, despised or worshipped, politicized or scrutinized. And as soon as a woman takes off her clothes in front of a camera, she is instantly judged and criticized.
So when female artists choose to take nude portraits of each other, it’s a pretty brave undertaking. The young photographers Yana Toyber and Aneta Bartos have done just that. The long-time friends and artists are involved in an intense and ongoing collaborative project (which also involves fellow artists Elle Muliarchyk and Martynka Wawryzniak) that tackles the topic of female physicality head-on, as the girls take provocative, lusty, surreal, violent and tender photographs and videos of each other stark naked.
To the artists, the work is a deeply personal journey that has unfolded in unexpected ways. “ I originally thought of this project as a different way to do a self portrait,” says Yana Toyber. “I thought it would be interesting to expose yourself through another woman who’s a photographer as well. I knew I wanted the project to have sexual undertones, but I didn’t envision us being naked.” However, once the group started experimenting with nudity, the work became so powerful that there was no going back. “I started feeling these amazing connections with the other women, which introduced new issues about sexuality and freedom and dominance,” says Aneta Bartos. “This project has helped me become brave.”
Her images, which are shot in dingy New York City hotel rooms, exude a dark and almost nightmarish atmosphere. “For me, this project was originally about sex and spirit and how it plays such a role in shaping cultures and religions and taboos,” says Bartos, who was raised in Catholic Poland, “It created this perfect pool of emotions.” As the collaboration evolved however, she started tackling different issues. "My frustration with the sexual oppression of women have resulted in the rebellious nature of my images,” she says. “They have become a gasp for freedom suffocated by the darkness of the reality of the male-dominated world”.
Toyber’s pictures, on the other hand, depict a more tender and playful side of womanhood. Her photographs are taken under water, which give the images a soft and somewhat dreamy quality. “The girls felt really comfortable in the water,” says Toyber, “It was very quiet and intimate, almost womb-like.” The water theme also ties into woman as a nurturer and guardian of the earth. Says Toyber: “Water is a resource that we need to protect. It's the beginning of all life. I wanted to evoke the feeling of birth."
Aneta Bartos Yana Toyber
from New York City, NY