In: PhotoEd Magazine
Shelagh HowardMarch 16, 2023
Shelagh Howard | Paeonia Officinalis alba plena
“Genus/species” is a body of work that explores the invisible, all-encompassing power of names, labels, and language.
In 1735, Carl Linnaeus published “Systema Naturae”; his system for identifying and classifying the natural world, still in use today. Names have power.
To name something is to define it, to acknowledge its existence as unique and separate from any other thing. Language informs people whether they are safe and belong. Or not. Cruel words leave hurts in hidden places, removed from easy healing. Words can stigmatize those who are different, marginalize those who need uplifting, dehumanize populations whose needs are inconvenient to those in power.
In “Genus/species”, in lieu of their names or other descriptors of the model pictured, the images are identified by the taxonomic names of the flowers they hold, harkening back to botanical illustrations and Linnaean classification.
Without the backdrop of easy identifiers or assumptions, this work spotlights the exploration of concepts including, beauty, body image, intimacy, loneliness, vulnerability, isolation, and connection through the expression of human flesh.
Shelagh’s work with the male figure explores the rarely seen perspective of the male nude through a woman’s eyes—one that challenges traditional, toxic masculinity in favour of a viewing experience that is genuine, curious, human and humane.
This deliberate conceit in labeling by the artist forces the viewer to decouple easy assumptions from the earthly flesh on display. There are no quick judgements to be made; only questions that unfold in the liminal space between the seen and the unknown: Should the subjects be named or otherwise identified? Would doing so shift our perceptions? Is it our right and our role to cast their shadows into the light for our own comfort? A picture may be worth a thousand words—or a single name—but who is to say which words are right and true?
~ Rita GodlevskisRead More
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