Arguably, to be considered good a photograph must have a theme. It must focus attention on that theme and achieve that focus in as simple a way as possible. Within these guidelines, Kenda North has created a sensuous and provocative study in this image from the Backyard Desire series.
Inasmuch as a photograph may be used to tell a story this images make good use of a parallel style to written storytelling. Specific props are used as innuendos to sexuality. There is visual metaphor in the incomplete sketch while the presence and appearance of the woman insinuates the desire implicit in the subject. There is pathos in this image.
While the composition of this photograph is complex, the careful placement of the model together with the various props fully engages the viewer immediately. The hand draws attention deep into the image by forcing the viewer to first consider the meaning of the key metaphor. As the scene is slowly explored, the overt sexual nature of the entire image comes into sharp focus. In its presentation, this photograph successfully communicates its theme of personal sexual desire.
To achieve this, North asked her friend to bring personal items to the shoot. Items that described the subjects impression of the theme. She then carefully arranged the various elements that together create a compelling image. To fully appreciate the subliminal effect it is necessary to explore these elements and to discuss how they relate to one another to generate a combined effect.
The major color influence is red in tandem with black. Typically a hot and vivacious color red is associated with extreme passion. North has carefully chosen a lower key tone to encourage a less passionate, more selfish impression. In fact, the lack of intensity evokes a deeply personal mood. The black offsets the passion and shifts the emphasis toward the romantic. The heat is turned down and the viewer is left to appreciate the intimacy of the artificial shadows. There is a clear suggestion of privacy synonymous with self-exploration.
The sexual theme is supported in the provocative manner in which the woman’s shirt is pulled down off her shoulder encouraging a hint of voyeuristic excitement from the sight of her underwear. To help focus attention on this key element North permits a single flash of light to land suggestively on the very top of the woman’s breast. This picture says to the viewer that there is something to see but nothing is shown. The excitement is in the anticipation of what is to come.
The viewer’s attention is clearly directed toward the woman with the use of the two mirrors. Beyond their sexual implication, they provide a dual supporting role. Firstly, they represent the qualities of introspection and self-examination. This is crucial to the moment. Otherwise the innocence of the scene is lost and the viewer is left with the ugly impression of self-gratification. There second influence is in the lesser metaphors present in the reflections. Like sub-plots in a story, the undulating red folds in the angled mirror and the provocative shape of the reflection in the one positioned on the ground allow the viewer to contemplate subject of the desire.
As the viewer resolves the image presented by the larger mirror the senses are assailed by the key metaphor. There is an unmistakable meaning in the sketch and the way the woman’s hand is approaching it. This meaning is interrupted only by the casual placement of the shoe. Why is it there? What does it represent? Perhaps it is an attempt to hide the suggestive action, or to support it by indicating the casual removal of clothing. It may represent an effort to stamp out the underlying behavior.
The repeated use of the crosses presents an interesting addition to this image. It is unclear what they represent. Possibly they are there to say no to this traditionally taboo subject, a supporting role to the shoe. There may be meaning in the rainbow coloring. Alternatively each may be there as framing elements to emphasize the triangular shape associated with the intimate region of the woman’s body the image is alluding to. Although it is unlikely, they may possibly be included simply to divert attention away from the wall.
There is a mild perspective distortion that suggests this photograph was taken with medium focal-length telephoto lens, perhaps 135mm. The compression of perspective and the camera angle allows the viewer to at once share in the privacy of the moment while at the same time to look down on what is suggested to be happening. North was careful to offer this choice and it does much to enhance the quality of this picture because the viewer may be either voyeuristically judgmental or complicit anonymously.
There is an intimate quality to this image. A sense of personal involvement in what the woman is doing. The viewer is close enough to share in the emotion yet far enough away not to disturb her privacy. Each viewer has the entire discretion to take the image in and no sensibilities are insulted by what is seen.