“It’s rare to stop and look at the backs of objects, even human beings; their details, their movements,” Leticia, pictured above, explained in a statement. “How strange and beautiful the backs of women can be, with their different sizes and shapes, with different elevations between muscles and bones.”
Leticia is a subject featured in photographer Kacy Johnson’s series “Female.” Each image follows a similar procedure. A woman subject is depicted nude, photographed in the same spot against a neutral, grey backdrop. The only thing the viewer is privy to, however, is the subject’s bare back. This simple shift reimagines what a nude portrait can be, exposing so much without revealing the parts conventionally associated with identity, femininity, and beauty.
Johnson embarked on the project in 2014, shortly after she moved to Brazil. She knew she wanted to make beautiful photographs of women, while reimagining the visual language of such an image. Fed up with images of women revolving around desirability, perfection and objectification, Johnson opted to highlight the aspects of womanhood she deems beautiful ― emotion, intuition, understanding, and inclusion.
“Photographing the big skin expanse that is my back shows that I can be more than just a pair of legs, some tan marks or a belly,” Arlene, another subject, explained. “I can be all that empty canvas that is my back, I can be the spine that supports me in the face of so much oppression, I can be the bra marks or the pimples and speckles that, like a constellation, silently inhabit my back while the rest of the world ― myself included ― is too busy looking at other pieces of me.”
After beginning the project in Brazil, Johnson is now creating portraits in San Francisco. She hopes to eventually travel to Asia, Europe and Africa, to capture the beauty of women around the world. “I’m interested in understanding how realities of women differ from place to place, the threads that join us together, and how we can support one another,” the artist explained to The Huffington Post.
Another subject, Laura, wrote about her experience, after years of comparing herself to the “perfect” woman plastered on billboards and magazine spreads: “We are not them. And we shouldn’t even want to be, as our differences are much more beautiful and valuable than the stereotypical white-skinny-blonde-impossible that we are sold. We are all beautiful, whether we are white, black, yellow, green, red, blue, skinny, chubby, the shape of a pear, banana or apple, with straight, unruly, curly, short, long or colorful hair! Our differences tell stories, a lot of them. And each history has its own beauty.”
Johnson aspires to use photography to help women change the way they see themselves, empowering both her subjects and viewers to see beauty in the way skin falls on an individual’s back, where it wrinkles, bunches and hangs. In such unnoticed details lie stories of experience, wisdom, and love ― qualities more beautiful than a camera can convey.
“I hope to encourage women to live fully,” Johnson concluded. “To feel complete in their bodies and also in their thoughts and feelings. Take up space in this world because the world needs you. Women are deep, complex and beautiful, and there is a lot to see and a lot to gain when we see the entirety of a woman. If we can resist covering up stretch marks and wrinkles, maybe we can allow women to feel complete and worthy exactly as they are.”