shannon may powell’s photos capture the heart and soul of what turns us on
The photographer wants you to see erotica as more than sex.
Shannon May Powell knows intimacy is about more than relationships, and eroticism is about much more than sex. The Australian-born, Berlin-based photographer is transfixed by the ephemeral connections between people, places, and moods. She untangles what gives us pleasure — be it physical, emotional, or spiritual. Her images vibrate with an intelligent sexuality and ask, "so, what really turns you on?"
Hey Shannon, what's going on in Berlin?
I'm based here, but I travel as much as I can. Having grown up in Australia, I'm grateful to be closer to the rest of the world right now. I was just in Istanbul for a month working on my first print publication with a gallery and bookshop there called Torna. When I'm home in Berlin I teach yoga, enjoy my friends and the freedom I have to work on creative projects. It's a socially progressive place to live. There is so much diversity. It's home to me, for now.
Does your background as a yoga teacher tie into the physicality you explore in your work?
Yes, it helps me see the body from an objective point of view, as pure line and form — similar to if I was to draw or paint the body.
Alongside the body, what are the subjects or topics you find yourself coming back to?
There are always themes I return to, often subconsciously. The main one is intimacy: everyone has an intimate relationship with his or her own medium of creation. For me the process of writing and photography is a relationship between me and my subject. Whether that subject is a person, an object, or an idea, I like to approach it with sensitivity. I also find myself drawn to the feminine, because it is what I know.
It's interesting to explore intimacy as something that extends beyond relationships between people.
By intimacy I mean the erotic relationship between the self and the world. When I use the word "erotic" I am not referring to sex, I am referring to what turns us on — the erotic as a source of finding pleasure in many things. Eroticism has been mistaken for the pornographic. We are taught to separate the erotic from most areas of our life other than sex. We have turned away from the erotic manifested as the capacity to find joy in life, in the way one's body responds to sensory experience.
I was never satisfied reducing my own erotic experiences to sex. The more I explore sensory perception through art, creation, love, and connection, the more I realize how profound the uses of the erotic can be, and the more I realize that we can engage passionately with many things in life; with our work, with our interests, and with each other.
How do you think people experience eroticism differently?
I just wrote a long article on this topic. I have been exploring sexuality and eroticism according to the masculine and feminine energies in the body. We all contain both, and yes, these energies experience the erotic differently, according to the different senses that are more heightened in each. Feminine sexuality has a fluid and ambiguous nature; it has the ability to transform both the internal and external world into an erogenous zone. I guess this is what I am trying to achieve in my art, capturing moments that undulate the feminine.
Everything we've spoken about is deeply ephemeral. How do you express that through something as static as photography?
This is what excites and challenges me most about photography, how to translate something sensual through a static medium. I focus on capturing images that trigger emotion, images that turn someone on. If you do this well, the human imagination will fill in the gaps. We project our own sensory experience onto images.
Text Wendy Syfret
Photography Shannon May Powell