Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Laura Stevens

Laura Stevens is a photographer whose work blends the elegance of the cinematic with the erudition of the documentary. She shoots her subjects—most often a number of single female figures—in series that detail an engaging range of emotional and psychological states. The action in these images takes place in similarly evocative and highly staged domestic settings: an antique and ornately wallpapered hotel room, a subject’s bedroom, kitchen, or living room.

Laura Stevens. Sofia from the series Another November, 2014; archival giclée pigment print; 60 x 90 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

Laura Stevens. Sofia, from the series Another November, 2014; archival giclée pigment print; 60 x 90 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

In her series Another November (2014), Stevens poses lone female figures in intimate, vulnerable, yet commanding positions in domestic spaces. This emotionally powerful series is meant to evoke the stages that the artist—and many others—go through after the end of a significant relationship. Stevens describes the impetus behind Another November: “Whilst adjusting to being a single woman, I started to create a photographic narrative based on the experience of losing love; directing other women to portray the gradual emotional and circumstantial stages, along the well-trodden track of the broken-hearted.” For this body of work, Stevens essentially created a vicarious and fundamentally empathic photographic depiction of grieving for lost relationships, a universal—yet impossibly individual—experience.

Laura Stevens. Aurelie from the series Another November, 2014; archival giclée pigment print; 60 x 90 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

Laura Stevens. Aurelie, from the series Another November, 2014; archival giclée pigment print; 60 x 90 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

The artist continues: “By constructing images of the evolving chapters, I was allowed a vantage point from which to view the changes occurring in me, from feelings of pain, confusion, and loneliness towards the reconstruction of my identity as an individual. The series of staged performances by different women, [many] of whom are friends or those I had been drawn to from the street, are enacted to show an intimate moment of adjustment.” Stevens’ works palpably exude the inner turmoil of her subjects, and in turn her own emotional recesses. There is an intricate layering at play here, as Stevens creates a platform that mediates self-reflection through witnessing another person’s experience; the mirror looms large.

Laura Stevens. Carole from the series Another November, 2014; archival giclée pigment print; 60 x 90 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

Laura Stevens. Carole, from the series Another November, 2014; archival giclée pigment print; 60 x 90 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

Furthermore, the use of multiple women with varying identities allows Stevens to enact her own angst through a series of dispersed gestures in which she seems to share the burden with her subjects, in turn allowing each, as well as the audience, an opportunity for shared catharsis. These gestures are also channeled through beautiful interior spaces and the casual but highly deliberate costuming of the women. Throughout her work, Stevens pairs empathy with dramatically poignant scenery, vivid composition, and intense visual detail. In Carole (2014), we see a woman drinking an early-morning cup of coffee, wearing a rust-brown bathrobe as she stands near the open cabinets of a well-used kitchen—a typical vista and an experience most have had. There is nothing that pops about Carole, but her eyes, barely visible over the edge of her mug-clasping fingers, draw the viewer into her all-too-familiar situation and the potential challenges for which she seems to steady herself. But Carole, like all of the women in this series—Aurelie, Lily, Kate, Jessica, Matylda, Amy, Katherine, Emma, Gabriela, Arianna, Sibylla, Nina, Pauline, Samaya, Airelle, Christiana, Julie, Hannah, Sofia—never look into the camera lens; they never directly acknowledge the gaze (one that is so often male and sexualizing) because these women do not need or desire sympathy or validation; they are simply positioned to be understood and taken at face value.

Laura Stevens. Untitled from the series Hotel Amour, 2012; archival giclée pigment print; 60 x 90 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

Laura Stevens. Untitled, from the series Hotel Amour, 2012; archival giclée pigment print; 60 x 90 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

In another series, Hotel Amour (2012), Stevens juxtaposes a series of elegantly dressed women with the interior spaces of what appears to be an early 20th century hotel, presumably in France, where the artist lives and works. Intricate floral wallpaper, antique doorknobs and mirrors, rich well-maintained woodwork, and luxurious green walls are just some of the striking details in the background of the Hotel Amour series.

Laura Stevens. Untitled from the series Hotel Amour, 2012; archival giclée pigment print; 60 x 90 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

Laura Stevens. Untitled, from the series Hotel Amour, 2012; archival giclée pigment print; 60 x 90 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

All listed as untitled, these photographs read almost as frames from a fashion shoot, yet an element of mystery that is far too lushly cinematic pervades the gestures, settings, poses, and costuming that Stevens has composed. These photographs blend into one another and seem to fit into a larger arc, an unknown yet clearly composed narrative that the artist has in mind. The figures in Hotel Amour vacillate between states of hopefulness, self-possession, longing, boredom, cunning, and trepidation as if enacting or testing emotional states for a performance; it’s as if these are the film stills right before or right after shooting a scene.

Laura Stevens. Untitled from the series Exiled, 2008; archival giclée pigment print; 45 x 45 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

Laura Stevens. Untitled, from the series Exiled, 2008; archival giclée pigment print; 45 x 45 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

Laura Stevens’ photography touches on a broad range of subjects, including a series titled Exiles (2008) that documents a number of Tibetan exiles currently living in North India in challenging circumstances. Another series titled A Woman’s Realm (2007) captures a number of lone, nude female figures as they sit, stand, and move through their interior domestic spaces. This body of work is meant to subvert the dominant male gaze and offer a non-sexualized portrait of the female body in space, on her own terms.

The level of intimacy is what is most striking—and pervasive—in all of Laura Stevens’ photographs. She captures a closeness that is shared among the photographer, the audience, and her many subjects—an ever-changing and evolving set of relationships that are, paradoxically, grounded in static images. However, this engagement is not overwrought or too repetitive; with each new image or figure, Stevens captures unique gestures, expressions, and universal yet individually expressed emotional states.

Laura Stevens is a photographer living and working in Paris, France. She earned her BA from Leeds Metropolitan University, UK and an MFA in Photography from the University of Brighton, UK.  Stevens’ work has been shown in group and solo exhibitions both nationally and internationally, including London, New York, Paris; Brighton, UK; and Braga, PL. Her work has been featured in the British Journal of Photography, Aesthetica Magazine, LPV Magazine, the Huffington Post, and LensCulture, among others.

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