The Forest

Selina Mayer

2015 - Ongoing

Began in late summer 2015, The Forest is a conscious departure from masculinity and modernity, both in medium and in subject matter. My subjects are my contemporaries, from my global community of young artists (most of them queer) using their bodies for self-expression, uniquely connected in the digital age through social media. Recent puritanical legislation around the globe has inhibited how we connect and share our work online, but we continue to create undeterred.

Being from the same community we are allowed an immediate level of familiarity and intimacy that other (typically male) artists aren’t privy to. We are nude, but it is an unselfconscious and primordial nudity, reclaimed from the male gaze and with a softness and intimacy to the images rarely captured in a male lens. We are in nature and a part of it; we aren’t conquerors of the natural world, we are skyclad witches and exultant earth goddesses in communion with nature, vulnerable yet unafraid. We remain people, as unique and individual as the forest itself, not anonymous figures bereft of identity. We are willing collaborators and active participants, captured with the ritual alchemy of analogue photography, enveloped by and embracing our surroundings in a shared communion.

The timelessness of the setting is complemented by the medium; black and white film, processed and printed by hand. The final prints are not airbrushed, drawing attention to the tactile and physical qualities of the images as objects, in an age where photography is everywhere yet mostly incorporeal and ephemeral. The texture of the film grain echoes the unadulterated skin textures; the irregularities of analogue processes reflecting the natural imperfections of we the subjects and the environment.

The images of The Forest are an expression of freedom, defiance, community and of liberation of spirit, continuing a tradition stretching back generations.

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  • Ali & Devin of Wild Wolf Leatherwork, a pair of American, queer, sex-positive leatherworkers and analogue photographers I’ve known for many years online but finally met in 2017. We photographed each other one day and on another I taught them how to process their own black and white film, connected through our queerness and our preference for the tactile creative processes.

  • Julia Monae, a British model and performance artist who I met because she was working in the café/gallery adjacent to my studio. We got chatting one day about spirituality, ritual and art and it became a routine for me to drop round to talk to her while she supplied us both with free wine.

  • A self-portrait, one of many taken in The Forest throughout the years. This one in particular came from summer 2020, and my long-term partner joined me as a look out. This was taken on a day when the wind was so violently strong that by the end of the day my skin felt burnt, and mere moments after this photo was taken a huge branch crashed out of the tree above me and landed a couple of metres behind me.

  • Carla Tofano, a Venezuelan journalist, art model and creator and host of the tri-lingual podcast series and YouTube channel Metralla Rosa. I used to be in an art collective with her partner and co-creator of Metralla Rosa, Toby Deveson, but despite her working as a professional art model for over a decade it took several years for her to get in front of my camera, but we finally managed it in September 2021.

  • Sura Hertzberg, an American performance artist and model who visited London in the summer of 2018 in the middle of the most intense heatwave we’d had in years. I foolishly went looking for a specific spot that I'd used the year before as we were a little strapped for time, and of course over the winter the landscape had changed and it was completely different. Instead we walked and talked while looking for an alternative, commiserating with each other about the difficulties of sharing our art online and our frustration at repeatedly having to state "I do not make porn. I make art."

  • Kyotocat, an American model, photographer and self-portraitist who hasn’t had an actual home base in years, choosing to travel continuously. I'm a few years older than her and have become something of a mentor figure to her over the years, having taught her how to process her own black and white film and paper when we first met in 2016, and spending long hours talking through her ideas when she passed through town, often staying on my couch.

  • Mils Harding, a British born queer bi-racial actor, theatre maker, writer and drag king. We met through a mutual friend who organised an exhibition we both participated in, and later bonded over our mutual experiences with chronic illness and using our bodies in our art to work through it.

  • Dovile Paris, a Lithuanian art and erotic model who travels throughout Europe for work. She reached out to me after following my work online for a while, but happened to do so when someone very important to me had just attempted suicide. I was half out of my mind but I arranged to shoot anyway, and her frankness about her own mental health struggles as well as her patience with me was incredibly healing for me. She told me of a slavic folk tradition of roaming forests on the eve of the summer solstice in search of the fern flower, the finding of which brings good fortune.

  • Rosetta Carr, an Italian bass player, singer, songwriter and dancer. We had rescheduled our shoot once due to a mental health crisis amongst her friends, and when we did get to the forest I shared my own stories of crisis and struggles. We took our time, spending more time talking and smoking than taking photos.

  • Kelsey Dylan, an American model and herbalist specialising in medicinal mushrooms. She travels the world for work but will not fly, instead circumnavigating the globe via boat, train and buses, staying with me every time her boat lands in the UK. She always goes out of her way to be helpful; from helping me haul boxes of photo paper from my old darkroom into my new studio to insisting on cooking meals at home.

  • Ash Lynn, an American photographer, model and writer who I've been friends with online for many years. When we met in person at last she'd been living in Europe for a few months and wasn't sure whether she was going to stay or what she wanted to do with her life and career. She was the first person to use the word 'alchemy' to describe analogue photography to me and the word continues to remind me of her and the weird week we spent tinkering in the darkroom in 2017.

  • Grace Jessica, an American photographer and former model I've been internet friends with for years. She took a detour from her family hiking tour of Europe just to meet and work with me, a gesture that meant the world to me.

  • Sugar Magnohlia, a Brazilian model, photographer and single mother who first contacted me online shortly after David Bowie's death, as we'd both been publicly mourning. She's since become one of my most frequent collaborators and one of my closest friends, and we've helped each other through more than a few personal crises over the years. This image is from our second forest shoot four years after the first, and my second shoot after 5 months of COVID-19 lockdown.

  • Marine, a French former photographer and occasional model I’ve collaborated with repeatedly over the last 7 years. This image came from my first Forest shoot of 2021, snatched between intermittent bursts of freezing rain on May Day weekend.

  • Kitten Liddel, my long-term partner and my biggest champion, with our dear mutual friend, artist Winter James. This shoot in particular was one of the most vulnerable, serene and cathartic of my life. It marked my first shoot after 5 months of COVID-19 lockdown, the first time Kitten had felt comfortable enough in herself to be photographed by me (after almost 7 years together), the first time she’d had physical contact with someone who wasn’t me in 5 months, the first time we’d both seen Winter in 5 months, the first time I’d been back to my beloved forest in almost a year. It was like truly coming home and reconnecting with our community after months of isolation and anxiety.

  • Lana Helena, an actress, writer, producer and blogger who reached out to me because she specifically wanted to make nude images that were vulnerable and intimate without being objectified. During our shoot I climbed a tree with her assistance, only to slide out of it on the way down and rip a huge hole in my overalls in the process.

  • Lorrianne, a British performer, visual artist and very dear friend who I shared a room with a decade ago, when we were both dirt poor living in a live/work warehouse with 25 other people. She helped me back to my feet when I returned to London after a brutal family bereavement, for which I will forever be grateful for. This was the first time she’d been in front of my camera for 7 years.

  • Manya Muse, a French fine art model who has followed my work for years. She was insistent that we shoot outside despite the fact that her visit was planned for October, and was enamoured with the deciduous forest, having grown up surrounded by only pines. She kept apologising for her English but we were still able to talk at length about feminism, art and depictions of feminine bodies in the digital age.

  • Angie Marie, an American former lawyer turned model, photographer, writer and sex worker who I first met in her birthplace of Las Vegas, shortly after she’d emerged from a mental health crisis that led her to quit law, take up nude modelling and start touring the country to work. In 2017 she made it to the UK and although we’d not seen each other in person in 3 years our conversation picked up as though no time had passed.

  • Jordanlehn & Kyotocat, two American models, photographers and self-portraitists I met for the first time when they were travelling the world together in 2016. In exchange for their modelling time I taught both of them how to process black and white film and prints in the darkroom, feeling my age as both of them were too young to have ever used film before.