Eve and the Virgin Mary are the two primary female figures visualized in the history of Western Christian art. Eve’s signifying element is her shameful nudity, while the Virgin Mary is represented as a paragon of virtue, often clothed, almost bodiless. Art historian Margaret Miles writes, “[Eve’s] naked body . . . signals her sinfulness just as the Virgin’s lack of body reveals her goodness.” St. Irenaeus in the second century was the first to name the Virgin Mary as the “Second Eve,” claiming that Mary’s act of giving birth to Jesus reversed Eve’s fall and would lead to the salvation of humankind. These depictions, all made by men, were the lens through which women were expected to understand themselves.
With a large-format camera, I photograph women modeling as both Eve and the Virgin Mary in reference to particular images in art history, primarily from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Each participant chooses the image she wants to reference and we collaborate to make the portraits. In the same way the original artists extrapolated these narratives and placed them within a contemporary setting, I also photograph each woman in her own home. However, unlike the historical references, in my photographs each woman has agency to interpret the original pose as her own.
By placing real women into these mythical roles, I explore the ways in which the categories of shame and virtue continue to be inscribed onto women’s bodies in the contemporary West.
“Texts do not mean the world, but the images which they tear up.” —Vilém Flusser
1. Untitled (Apple Tree at Kloster Helta), Archival Pigment Print, 24 in. x 20 in., 2019 2. Untitled (Cut), Archival Pigment Print, 11 in. x 14 in., 2019 3. When I See Its Left Ear I Think He Had Heard Me, Archival Pigment Print, 11 in. x 14 in., 2020 [Original silver gelatin print by Sister Christiane Henson, prioress of Kloster Helfta] 4. Untitled (Light), Archival Pigment Print, 4 in. x 5 in., 2019 5. Untitled (Curtain at Kloster Helfta), Archival Pigment Print, 16 in. x 20 in., 2020 6. Untitled (Honey), Archival Pigment Print, 11 in. x 14 in., 2019 7. Untitled (Rock), Archival Pigment Print, 14 in. x 11 in., 2019 8. Untitled (Shadow), Archival Pigment Print, 11 in. x 14 in., 2019 9. Untitled (Hand), Archival Pigment Print 11 in. x 14 in., 2019
10. Untitled (Bee in Mouth), Archival Pigment Print, 5 in. x 4 in., 2020 11. Untitled (Eisleben, Germany), Archival Pigment Print, 10 in. x 8 in., 2020 12. Untitled (Sister Sandra), Archival Pigment Print, 11 in. x 14 in., 2020 13. Untitled (Mirror), Archival Pigment Print, 16 in. x 20 in., 2018 14. Untitled (Gertrude’s First Vision), Archival Pigment Print, 30 in. x 40 in., 2020