Fetish and Fascination: An Interview with Visual Artist Joanne Leah

gold painted foot, photography

Artist and photographer Joanne Leah has morphed from a sculptor to a photographer and art director; her personal work illustrates that influence with its sculptural, sensual quality.

Her subject matter is wearable sculpture and models often hold bizarre poses in unconventional materials that force the viewer to take a second look. In exploring humans’ physical relationship with ordinary objects, Leah has created a body of work that is both uncomfortable and beautiful; a place that celebrates humor, sexuality, and self-expression in equal parts. She looks ahead and pushes the boundaries of her work within the mediums of film and installations.

Above: One of Leah’s simpler poses, this piece is titled “Soul sole.”
honey glitter spilling from woman's mouth rope bondage, woman tied up in colorful ropes
“Bless this Mess” (top image) generates an almost visceral reaction. And bondage is a recurring theme in Leah’s work.

Tell us a little bit about your background—have you always been interested in photography?

I never considered myself a photographer. I was a sculpture student but switched to studying fashion design because I wanted to make wearable sculptures. I took photography classes in college to document my work. I have always explored interactions with the human form.

How did you arrive at your distinct photographic style?

At first I was shy about my ideas, asking strangers to remove their clothes and get into uncomfortable positions while I apply things to their bodies. My color palette started as dark and muted but has transformed into bright and vivid.

bubble gum tape over body, photography lots of pairs of feet and legs
Leah explores themes like “childhood memories” using distinctive materials.

Your images are often sensual, or uncomfortable, or funny … or all three. What kind of messages or emotions are you trying to evoke with your photographs?

I am interested in the fetish of ordinary objects and our physical relationship to them. I study how these objects envelop (smother) us and become a part of who we are. I take objects, food or other substances, that are used in everyday life, and place them in atypical contexts. My work is about sensation, I want the viewer to feel what my subject feels, but using their own sensual interpretation.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Fetish, temptation, obsession, compulsion, childhood memories, philosophy.

green liquid flowing out of men's shorts, photography woman lying down, red feet
Her strategic use of color creates a focus and an emotional quality in each piece.

Your photo shoots must be somewhat unconventional—what is it like working with your models?

My photo shoots are conceptual experiments where I push boundaries and find mutual trust with my subjects. This is the starting point of the narrative. As I work with a person and their body, I ask questions of myself such as, “What do people find arousing? How do people normally react to bodies, fluids and fleshiness? Is there something else within this flesh, something deeper? How can perceptions change?”

What are some of your favorite materials to work with?

Skin, glitter, homemade slime, vegetables, powders, gelatin, food coloring, water, candy, body paint, paper.

What’s next for you, or how do you see your work evolving?

Video, art objects and installation.

pastel camouflage cloth over human body spaghettie wrap, turquoise background
Leah isn’t afraid to get creative with the materials she uses in her shoots. Favorites include homemade slime and glitter.

Is your personal art your full-time gig?

I work on my personal art half the time. The other half, I am an Art Director.

What do you like to do when you’re not taking photos?

Dream.

Follow the artist on Ello and Instagram.

Photos © Joanne Leah
Alexi Ueltzen

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Alexi Ueltzen is Ello’s Community Evangelist. If she’s not at the office, she’s probably swimming, getting muddy with her dogs, or baking cookies. The best cookies. Seriously. Follow the author @ Twitter , Instagram, and view more articles.