Forces of power have long-defined reductive expectations of how women’s bodies should present. Demeter’s debut photobook invites us to untether from these constraints
“When someone came in with an emergency like they cut their finger off chopping wood, I would ask my Dad if I could watch them being stitched up.” Iringó Demeter remembers, “I was utterly fascinated.” The London based photographer grew up in Transylvania, Romania, living above her parents’ doctors surgery; an environment in which the body persisted as the primary conversation. This proximity activated a life-long obsession with documenting the physicality and materiality of the human form. Unlike her childhood education, Demeter’s photographs depict anatomy stripped of its labels. Focusing on fragments of flesh, at times almost rendered abstract, she invites us into a state of profound attentiveness.
She is Warm, Demeter’s debut photobook published by Libraryman, assembles a four year exploration of women’s bodies. Up close, and unflinchingly personal, she captures evocative monochromatic details that speak to ideas of beauty, ageing, motherhood, and connection. Demeter’s interpretation is one of malleability, an open-ended study made more distinctive by her off-kilter composition. Her aesthetic, born from a kind of digital happenstance, is what activates her curious gaze. “It started with the early days of Instagram when you could only post square formats. I couldn’t show my work in the way I wanted to, so I began sharing details.” Demeter shares, “Making new images out of existing images. I reimagined how I thought about composition and my approach to photography.”
What electrifies the work is a graceful confrontation with the limitations of perception. The notion that the skin we live in is intrinsically familiar, yet wildly unknown. Demeter is quietly fetishistic about picturing our anatomical blind spots. The contour of an armpit. The way skin stretches over a knee. Flesh folded, wrapped, supported and held. This striking choreography seeks to illuminate the gaps in our unknowing. One of the photographers most treasured sitters was her 84-year-old grandmother who didn’t recognise herself when she saw her image. “My friend’s husband failed to identify his wife and kept insisting she was pictured in a different shot. The reactions are quite funny, but raise questions about how well we know our bodies, and the bodies of humans we know intimately.”
The timing of She is Warm holds an unexpected significance. Our personal vulnerability has been recalibrated in the last year. Living in a pandemic is to exist in a constant state of threat. While mental and physical health continues to be pushed to our limits, our only option is to surrender and release our resistance. This uncharted territory, coupled with the enforced absence of touch, human connection and intimacy, has forced us into an inescapable confrontation of self. Demeter’s photographs serve as a reminder of how sacred our flesh and blood really is. Using the precarious yet robust armour we all inhabit as a visual quest for empathy, acceptance and commonality.
This potent rumination on the body, one in which skin is a narrative force, also illuminates the conditions and contracts women are expected to engage in. Forces of power have long defined harmful and reductive expectations of how women’s bodies should present. Demeter’s work is an invitation to untether ourselves from these constraints, defying social and cultural expectations of beauty, favouring the practice of being ourselves. “I’m interested in being a mirror to encourage people to celebrate who they are.” Through these unexpected photographic encounters, Demeter is opening up a liminal space between the familiar and the unknown to create a path of discovery for us all.
Creative director, writer, podcaster and photo director, Gem Fletcher works across visual-cultural fields, focusing on emerging talent in contemporary photography and art. She is the photo director of Riposte Magazine, and hosts a photography podcast, The Messy Truth.