Far away from power play: Jo Ann Callis’ photographic thoughts on desire

„Yes, women are objectified – but in making art, gender is not something you assign to describe the whole person. At the time, I thought, well, does this mean we can’t show a female nude again? For me, it was more about representing an inner state of mind.“ says Jo Ann Callis in order to answer the question how her photographs are related to the feminist movement. Taken in the mid-70s her early color work needed 40 years to get recognized and published. There are multiple reasons for this: first is that color photography still wasn’t considered as art during the 70s. Second is that Callis’ photographic thoughts on sexuality were staged at home, in a domestic environment and without showing faces – way too private and aesthetically to serve the political claims at that time. Third is that Callis used to work as a teacher and wasn’t very comfortable with showing these images while she was still a civil service employee.

In 2014 aperture books released Other Rooms which shows Callis’ images from the 70s which still look so fresh and contemporary that it was quite a sensation when they were published. Infused by a surrealistic element that turns anything in front of a camera into an odd object, her photographs of (mainly female) nudes show a certain beauty that comes with when limits are pushed. We witness a sexually charged play between model and photographer that is still serious and thoughtful enough to not let things slip into vulgarity. Talking about her intention Callis explains: „The idea was to show what would feel good and what would look interesting. How do you confer something without actually saying it, how do you connote a feeling through a specific activity that just alludes to that sensation but doesn’t show it exactly?“ For getting a sense of what she means with that it is helpful to have a closer look at one of her images where we see a girl’s back with a painted black line that runs from her head down her spine. Everyone knows how good it feels to get tenderly touched there.

Some images show the sweet pain of getting wrapped or fixed, yet others show gender confusion or a desiring gaze on the female body. All of them show a single person that is not entangled with a counterpart. Although Callis’ series on desire has some masochistic moments in it, it is not about power or submission but more about letting go and getting free.

We just have to Give Some Love to this!


All following images are copyrighted by Jo Ann Callis.















  1. Wagener Peter

    Excellent choice Jana and very well written !
    I gotta give some love to that 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *