This NSFW Artist Is Reimagining What It Means For Women To Feel Erotic

Joanne Leah slouches at her kitchen counter one crisp January day, her brown hair tucked behind her ears. Ray Henders, her handlebar-mustachioed husband, hunches over their four-month-old baby, Charlotte, across the room of their Williamsburg loft. “This used to be the studio,” Henders explains, standing at the crib in where Charlotte—their new, different sort of project—resides.

Toys hang on the bulletin board, and a diaper genie sits next to what used to be a drafting table. Above Charlotte’s crib is a 6×10 foot print of Leah’s. It’s a grid of 35 of her photos: Each features an anonymous body (or body part) in contact with an unusual substance in front of a brightly colored background. Naked bodies tied in ropes; a close-up of an egg yolk and glitter on someone’s tongue; a crotch with neon blue paint and legs encased in fishnets. These are the sort of images that Charlotte gazes upon as she opens her eyes in the morning.

Of starting out, Leah says, “I was in a really unhappy marriage. So I started shooting erotic self-portraits and posting them on the Internet. It was pre-Instagram, so I used Flickr. Then I moved to New York and started shooting friends of friends, and realized—oh, this is so much more fun.’”

She laughs and crosses her arms, one of which is tattooed with a two-headed snake. Once, she had a dream that she had a two-headed snake tattooed on her arm by a friend, so she went out and got it done—not by her friend, of course. She likens it to the two-headed snake in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian novel We. “He’s my protector,” she says.

In New York, Leah started photographing nude models in front of dark, jewel-toned backgrounds and with objects from her childhood—say, ballet slippers or plastic Easter basket confetti. But there was always a twist: The ballet slippers, for example, were bloodied and the model’s foot was at an unnatural angle, or the confetti smothered the model’s face-down body.

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