When you think of a nude photo of a woman, you probably don't imagine her back. But that's exactly what you'll see when you look at every photo of photographer Kacy Johnson's series, Female. Each of photos shows the bare back of a naked woman standing against the same gray background.
While her portraits focus on women's bodies, Johnson stresses that that's not the point for her. Instead, she hopes that her images will encourage women to feel complete in their bodies, thoughts, and feelings, and encourages them to live more fully.
"Take up space in this world because the world needs you," Johnson told A Plus. "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 and they will open up and share what is truly beautiful about them, things like emotion, intuition, understanding, inclusion."
Johnson started this project in 2014 after moving to Brazil. As she looks back on what inspired this project, she can't put her finger on a simple answer or a single moment, but one aspect she mentioned stood out to us.
"My own struggle to figure out how to make beautiful photographs without being a part of this universe of images of 'perfect' women that I've been fed my whole life and that I think are a distraction from what is truly beautiful about being a woman," she said.
"I experimented with lots of different styles of portraits, and I think I ended up gravitating towards backs because of the intimacy and vulnerability involved."
Johnson's only criteria for participation in her project is that her subjects are women. She uses social media to spread the word and will photograph anyone interested in participating. She encourages those who contact her to bring other women along.
So far, Johnson has taken photos in Brazil and is now working on portraits in California. She hopes to travel to Europe, Asia, and Africa in order to represent women from around the world in her project. "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," she said.
Many women are incredibly self-conscious about their bodies, focusing in on their flaws and imperfections instead of celebrating the things that make them beautiful. But Johnson believes we can work to change that.
"We can stop objectifying women's bodies, making them feel inadequate in order to get them to buy products, and we can value other parts of what they offer to our world. For women, beauty is still a huge part of their social currency," she said. "We can also start with girls when they are young and encourage them in school, activities, sports, anything they're interested in."
You can see some of her portraits and captions from her subjects below:
1. Daiane, São Paulo, Brazil
"You have no body, no motherland, no family.
Do not bend to the yoke of tyrants.
You have no price in the land of humans.
Not even time corrodes you.
You are the essence of years.
What comes and what was... "
2. Natalie, San Francisco, US
"Somehow I feel more bare and vulnerable with the photo being my back as opposed to my front, which was very much unexpected. I have so much more control over the front of my body in contorting my expressions to cover anything I don't want to reveal that is going on in my mind. For example, if I'm uncomfortable in a social situation, I can use my frontal body and my face to mask that. Somehow I feel like my bare back tells all. I was feeling unsure about my naked body during the shoot — worried about any and all 'imperfections' and I can see that lack of security in my head movement and my posture. The back is so much more telling and honest than I would have ever expected or paid attention to. Thank you for a new perspective. Above all it feels truthful."
3. Letícia, São Paulo, Brazil
"It's rare to stop and look at the backs of objects, even human beings; their details, their movements. How strange and beautiful the backs of women can be, with their different sizes and shapes, with different elevations between muscles and bones. The part that exposes the most skin, explicitly leaving the beauty of color, making it clear that it is the skin who raises us up and positions us."
4. Angel, San Francisco, US
"The sides of me I cannot see...
What pain and invisible hardship run through this body, through the back and spine of this body, ravaged by tick-born disease.
How much can we carry without it showing on the outside?
You may see things in me I cannot...
I may know things by the experience of being in this body, things you may never see."
5. Nanci, São Paulo, Brazil
"It's very tactile, very sensory what a skin can tell. There are no lies there, skin tells only truths."
6. Luana, São Paulo, Brazil
"The skin in Brazil is full of nuance.
A mixed race woman often doesn't know who she is"
I am all of this and none of it at the same time.
Racism hits the mixed race woman when her blackness is used to make her feel less than,
And to be able to assume her blackness comes through the consciousness that there is no reason to be ashamed of roots that were always denied, stepped on, forgotten.
The skin in Brazil was mixed with pain, but this pain made me who I am today.
I am all of this and none of it at the same time."
7. Dorothy, San Francisco, US
"As I sit and look at these photos of my back, I notice little things such as faint tan lines, the contours of my shoulders, the soft and supple nature of my skin, and the asymmetrical line of my haircut that is different now. Obviously, I see the enormous tattoo of a burrowing owl that stares unapologetically out into the world. It's the one thing on my body I can't look directly into or at. I need a photograph or a mirror to look upon what I entrusted someone to draw permanently onto my body.
Someone once said that my tattoos are a type of metaphorical armor and how they serve as a constant visual reminder of who I am and how I identify. That's certainly true, but I think my back tells quite the story of how I see myself as well. The burrowing owl is quite unique. It is active during the day unlike other owls that are nocturnal. They burrow and nest underground, which are rather unique instincts for an animal that can fly! It stays close to the ground most of the time, but has the capacity take flight at any moment. I guess, in many ways, I see myself as this little bird that is much more agile and complex than its stature and size let on. It is majestic in its own way and I've always seen this mark on my back as a protector of sorts. My back seemed like the most logical place to tell this story about myself. I think it has to do with trust as well. It is extremely rare for people to see this piece of artwork in its entirety — until now. This project forced me to be vulnerable in a way I never thought I would be. So, if eyes are the windows to the soul, perhaps the back is a vision into the history and stories we carry inside us."
8. Laura, São Paulo, Brazil
"It's a way to look from another angle, through the sensitive lens of someone else's eyes, your eyes already trained to find the imperfections in your own body after years of being bombarded with 'perfect' images of 'perfect' women, utopian.
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."
9. Elis, São Paulo, Brazil
"To look at your own back, at first felt... unfamiliar. It was like looking at the mirror and seeing another person there. But suddenly you recognize yourself and see all of you there, the transformations of time, the skin color that is already different from all the rest that is always exposed."
10. Carolina, San Francisco, US
"My skin represents my heritage, my story, my love for self. My color is my background and I'm proud to wear it everyday. As I age, my story will change and tattoos will remain as marks that I will never forget. As women we face many challenges that make us question our beauty and worth, but TODAY I tell you WE ARE BEAUTIFUL. The real beauty is our souls and loving ourselves is our power."
This is an ongoing project for Johnson and she's still looking for participants. Currently, she plans to visit San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City in the near future. If you're interested in participating, you can get in touch with her on Instagram.
(H/T: Huffington Post)