Queertographer Debra Gloria opens women up to their own beauty
When photographer Debra Gloria opens her lens to create female nude images, she often brings the women she shoots to tears at the sight of their own beauty.
Gloria’s project, titled Sensuality, is a collection of black and white nudes that captures the essence of each woman cloaked in darkness where just enough light play reflects the natural beauty of the female form. That might be expected in the pages of Vogue or Playboy, but Gloria uses only non-professional models … and her images are not your everyday black-and-whites. At first glance, they call to mind Leibovitz or Mapplethorpe, but Gloria differentiates her work.
“With Annie’s black-and-white photography, she always includes props,” she explains. “I decided I was not going to use anything but the body and let the body express itself. And Mapplethorpe is very sexual — there is a difference between sensuality and sexuality. Sex is a verb. Sensuality is a woman.”
Gloria’s inspiration came from wanting to capture the quiet moments no one sees in the lives of women.
“Sensuality is what a woman is like inside of her body — not necessarily the exterior, but the interior of what lives inside her. We don’t see that; we put a façade on every day and zip it up and that’s how we greet our friends, our colleagues and sometimes even our partners. It is in that quietness that sensuality is not seen or known in everyday life. It is something we keep under lock and key,” she says.
Gloria started taking pictures in 1990, working as a commercial and artistic photographer, but didn’t start her Sensuality series until 2006. In 2007, she had her first show of these images. Women looked at the beauty on the wall, reflected on themselves and said they didn’t feel attractive — they were depressed: maybe from a breakup, a misunderstanding in a relationship, maybe they gained weight or they didn’t feel attractive. As the process continued, Gloria started feeling what they were going through and started shooting women in a different light.
“I started showing what I saw in them — the beauty I saw in them,” explains Gloria, who is lesbian. “[Women] are our worst critics — ‘look at this roll, look at this hail damage’ …
I hear laundry lists of what we criticize ourselves. But [my models] always ask me at the end of our shoot, in tears, ‘Is that really me?’”
It was through this process that Gloria realized how the project was helping women boost their self-esteem. To begin a shoot, Gloria counsels each model to ask how they see themselves. A lot of people aren’t ready for such a simple question.
“I have to develop a trust level with the model — they are about to feel me extract something about themselves they didn’t know,” she says. When they arrive for the shoot, Gloria invites them to bring familiar music as a relaxation trigger.
“I can see as they have transformed into someone being aware of themselves to someone who lets go — they become unaware of themselves and that is when the magic starts,” she says. “There is a level of respect that happens between me and the client while shooting that they have that comfort level with me.”
The result is a tribute to the woman, a breathtaking layout of artistic photography and a revitalized sense of self-esteem for the model. Gloria focuses on the fine details and produces fine art.
She plans to publish Sensuality with a book launch in November.
— Sarah Denise Morgan
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 13, 2013.