Renee Jacobs’ images are a love letter to women

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“Representation is incredibly essential, ” the artist says, “women need not be desexualised, but it should always be the choice”

In Renée Jacobs’ current exhibition at FotoNostrum Gallery in Barcelona, Spain, the artist shows function alongside a selection of photographs simply by Helmut Newton. It was an idea conceived to offer two opposing visions of women, from two different sets of eye.

Jacobs explains that Julio Hirsch-Hardy, director of FotoNostrum, reached out two years ago with the idea to do a concurrent exhibit alongside Newton’s Private Property – a project collating some of the German-Australian photographer’s many iconic erotic and style work.  

Newton’s images have often been some of the people at the centre of conversations when it comes to subjects including man voyeurism and the representation from the female body. As an designer who built her profession on making pictures associated with empowered women, it was an intriguing prospect. “I adored the idea, ” says Jacobs, “Newton’s lesbian images were some of the first photographic indications to me that my wishes might just fall along a spectrum of wonderful diversity that was inclusive. ” 

Wendy In The Swimming pool © Renée Jacobs.

The Bite from Paris © Renée Jacobs.

Born within 1962, Jacobs grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She found photography in high school, plus freelanced for magazines and newspapers throughout college, applying publish her first guide of photojournalism in 1986, Slow Burn: A Photodocument of Centralia, Pennsylvania . From there, she was granted a scholarship to study environment law in Portland, Or, and worked in civil rights law for the following 15 years.

During this part of her life, she was responsible for bringing around some of the early litigation around gay rights in the US. Ultimately though, the impulse to take photographs trickled back into her consciousness. Since then, Jacobs has always regarded her work as “visual activism that’s an immediate line from those days”.

Jacobs has spent her photo taking career making erotic monochrome nudes, and images that will visualise female sensuality plus lesbian love with closeness and emotion. “I started out taking the prototypical headless, faceless, ‘bodyscape’ nudes, but rapidly realised that those didn’t signify – to me – the particular power of the women behind the images. ” 

Actually on a journey to really feel around the edges of her own sexuality, Jacobs began taking pictures of a group of women that will she saw as fearless, strong and free. “It completely changed the way I viewed photography, women and me personally, ” she recalls. “There was nothing else in the creative or commercial world that was speaking to my desires or those of so many of the women within my orbit. ”

Now located in the mountains west of Montpellier, France, Jacobs has recently released two photobooks. Paris , the modified second edition of a guide that sold out in 2013, and Polaroids , a passionate depiction of ladies across the sexual spectrum. “ Paris, france was really the start of how I was introduced to women who had been empowered in their sensuality – that city really does some thing to women, ” she says.

Meanwhile, “ Polaroids is just a wonder to me, ” she says. “My author Alexander Scholz at Galerie Vevais in Berlin created a handmade Japanese stitched guide with an open spine, which showcases my Polaroid Type 55 positives beautifully. ” It is a tactile object to be treasured; a piece of art that is suited to hold the precious images inside of it.

Jemmé in Malibu © Renée Jacobs.

For Jacobs, the key in order to powerful, feminist work would be to collaborate deeply with her models. “It’s about what they would like to show. What they want to explore, ” she says. “I photographed one of Newton’s muses – Sylvia Gobbel – which image is both in Paris, france and in the exhibition. Had been there a difference in Newton’s personal vs . commercial function? I don’t know. I can only speak to how important it is to myself to give models free control. ”

For Jacobs, manifestation is important. “Women need not be desexualised, but it should always be our choice. What you are seeing in my photographs is definitely women who can speak for themselves – visually, physically, intellectually, psychologically, sexually. And lesbians should very much be part of that conversation. After all, our imagery can be used so often in ways beyond our own control. I always say lesbian sexuality is often erased or exploited, rarely is it strengthened. ”

Paris  and Polaroids by Renee Jacobs can be found to order via the girl website. Her work can also be exhibited alongside Helmut Newton’s Private Property at Fotonostrum in Barcelona, Spain.  

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over 40 international magazines plus journals, and held opportunities as editor for organisations including The Photographers’ Gallery, Invisible Amsterdam and Self Release, Be Happy. She lately completed an MA inside comparative literature and critique at Goldsmiths College, University of London

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