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Sarah Piantadosi, Bone (2023)
Photographer Sarah Piantadosi explores selfhood, identity and body politics in her new photo book, BonePhotography Sarah Piantadosi

Sarah Piantadosi’s arresting nudes are a declaration of selfhood

Bone is the new photo book of assertive portraits which confront the age-old body politics of oppression

Over recent years, London-based photographer Sarah Piantadosi has noticed an unmistakable shift in the way young people think about the politics of the body. Beginning with the rise of fourth-wave feminism, and gaining momentum of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, Piantadosi tells Dazed she was struck that “so many people all over the world were making poignant critique and commentary on oppressive white patriarchal structures… This relates to the body in a very personal way,” she reflects. “Having your selfhood ‘othered’ is simply not something young people are willing to tolerate anymore.”

This seismic shift was the primary inspiration for Piantadosi’s new book, Bone. Over the course of a year and a half, Piantadosi photographed more than 50 twenty-somethings in both London and Paris. What emerges is a radiant collection of nude portraiture and a captivating snapshot of a generation that is by turns enigmatic and defiant. A model with a buzzcut stares directly at the viewer, a long ponytail of hair raised in their fist like a trophy. Another holds a delicate white flower, while a lit match hangs from their mouth. Throughout, Bone is both invitation and challenge.

“Having your selfhood ‘othered’ is simply not something young people are willing to tolerate anymore” – Sarah Piantadosi

Although many of the portraits have a transcendent, otherworldly beauty, Piantadosi says the project isn’t about “the body as an object or composition”, but rather “selfhood and directness.” “To me,” she stresses, “the images are saying I AM HERE – don’t disregard me or ignore me. Look at me, understand me and accept me.”

Perhaps surprisingly, looking at these photographs, Piantadosi has not always been comfortable with nude portraiture. She emphasises that “photography has a history of exploitation”, and suggests stories from the #MeToo movement “really brought to light just how seedy the industry is for so many models”. In her commercial and editorial work as a fashion photographer, she found herself veering away from nudity, and the power dynamic it implied. “My approach at the time was to do the opposite of nudity and use clothes and layering for character building,” she says. Yet, she began to question this approach. “I started to look at my own life, and how I subconsciously used a proximity to maleness to attempt to feel powerful, and how flawed this logic was in the greater conversation around gender equality,” Piantadosi confesses. “This project was a way to confront my own discomfort.”

“The process of Bone was about creating photography, but also very much about conversation and learning how young people are feeling in this cultural moment. Like a temperature check,” she explains. Coming out of the pandemic, she craved meeting people in person and often asked her subjects to bring a few chosen items to shoots, as conversation starters. She continues, “Sometimes it was a special pair of shoes, or jewellery, or a talisman,” she says, but the essential idea was to spark a kind of intimacy: “I really want people to bring themselves to the picture and be emotionally invested.” This sense of being emotionally invested is a crucial part of the dynamic at work in her portraiture. “I really hate apathy,” she tells us, “It’s such an antithesis to creativity. I don’t like this idea that the subject shows up, you take the picture with little conversation and then it’s over.” Instead, she wanted “a more connected, collaborative experience”.

“To me, the images are saying I AM HERE – don’t disregard me or ignore me. Look at me, understand me and accept me” – Sarah Piantadosi

While she is wary of describing any art as a form of activism, Piantadosi believes it “certainly has the power to shift public consciousness”. She sees creating work as “a way to be active in the cultural conversation, and add to it – the more people adding the better”. For example, she points out the fact “we have so many more female photographers now than even five to ten years ago”, adding that it “feels like the conversation and aesthetic around femaleness and non-binary identity has really changed and expanded”. To achieve full equality she admits “there’s quite a way to go”, but she remains hopeful: “I see major progress and I think we will get there.”

The UK launch of Sarah Piantadosi’s Bone will take place at Donlon Books on Broadway Market (London, E8 4PH) on March 16 2023 (6.30pm-9.30pm).

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