Many of us spend a third of our days bloating, contracting, aching, and oozing, quietly consumed, interrupted, or quarantined by the hormonal tidal wave commanding the primal swamp between our legs. In 2013, when I began making these photographs, I’d never seen a picture of anyone menstruating. Our bodies are history’s muse: endlessly neutered for exhibition, hollowed into a husk of breasts-hips-ass. But in art and culture, menstruation is a gap, sewn-up and silenced, between virgin and madonna. It is too ugly to picture.
Our bodies are yoked to the menstrual tide, while our personhood is yoked to object-hood or motherhood: if not yoked to beauty, then to grace, or purity, or infinite emotional capacity, with no mess. We are asked to be unchanging things. Our currency is our seamlessness, the deft fabrication of our facade, physical and emotional. We bend over our phones, thirsty like Narcissus, back aching and eyes shot; we become fixated on our image, perfect in that glossy surface. We barely see ourselves.
Shame is our rite, passed down from mother to child, fortified between women, located in our bodies, flowing from our menses. Our pads are like blindfolds and muzzles, our tampons like gags. Some of the women in these photos had never seen their own menstrual blood. How do we know ourselves if we cannot look at ourselves?
I photographed these bodies in order to splash the “ugliness” of our blood all across the idol of the female form. I did not want to make discreet pictures, like the ones in sex ed. I did not want to make picture shards, like those carved by the scalpels of prescriptive and pathologizing doctors pedaling the same puritanism as the church. I did not want pornographic cuts, laid out for our butcher eyes. I wanted pictures that told stories.
The women here always volunteered for the camera, pulling me into corners, asking me to photograph them. I shot in 35-millimeter film, then developed and printed the images in my own darkroom. I wanted to expel the flickering ghost of the LCD screen, to release both of us from our relentless self-critique.
I wanted to make pictures of what we refuse to show ourselves and what we refuse to see in each other. I wanted to make pictures of the things we turn away from. Later, I saw that my artist impulse had laid a finger on the culture’s pulse: around me, others began talking about “period positivity” and the shame and inequities shrouding our wombs.
The women photographed don’t represent many menstruating bodies, in one way or another. I don’t mean this collection to be a universal picture of womanhood or menstruation. These are a few menstruating bodies, pictured in ways we don’t often see any bodies, and in that way, I hope this work expands our vision of all of us. We are the world’s muse.
My muse is our ooze.