“The images act as self-portraits,” says Lydia Panas (b. 1958) of the Sleeping Beauty series, a collection of photographs depicting women and girls amongst lush foliage. Lying surrounded by grass, leaves and branches, they stare back into the lens. “Whilst my subjects turn their gaze towards me,” she explains, “it’s as if I turn the camera onto myself, both in the present and back in time.”
Working across photography and video, primarily in collaboration with women, Panas is interested in investigating questions about who we are and what we want to become. In doing so, she considers the ethics of the medium. “I pay attention to the roles of power and trust on both sides of the camera,” she says. “I consider what I longed for as a child, what I was afraid of, and the transformation from girl to woman.”
The results are raw, tender and intimate. Panas shot these images within the fields, forests and studio of her 70-acre farm in Pennsylvania; her connection with the land – and her family – form the foundations of Sleeping Beauty. “As we navigate the dense forest, I am reminded of memories our bodies hold on to and the entanglements we must let go of.” When viewed in this way, the body of work becomes deeply personal.
Panas’ works can be found in public and private collections including the Brooklyn Museum, Bronx Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Palm Springs Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago, among others. Her work has been published widely, appearing in periodicals such as The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine and Hyperallergic.
Words: Eleanor Sutherland
All images courtesy Lydia Panas