Her World Within
by Layla Love
Her World Within
by Layla Love
—-Forward to Her World Within
Written by Gloria Steinem
I always assumed that the deep difference between art created by the human hand, and art created by the human hand holding a camera, was that the first was more an expression of the imagination, and that the second was more rooted in what we can each see in the world.
That was before I spent a decade or so looking at the images created by the camera of Layla Love. Many people that she photographs may become a joyous frieze of images in motion without losing one bit of their recognizability. Butterflies may become a force in the world that makes visible their influence on the weather. Each body part may assume a power of its own, without any danger of objectification. Our literal world is present, powerful, and honest, yet it doesn’t create, color and shape the people in it. People create, color and shape the world they’re in.
I haven’t a clue how she does this. I’ve been present while she works, and I can vouch for the fact that she is recording real events, not fictionalizing them. Her photographer’s “eye” is not created with chemicals or enlargers or other tricks of a darkroom. Her images are as much a part of her as a camera seems to be part of her hand. Indeed, those of us on the other end are more aware of her as a presence than of her camera, which lets us be ourselves.
Some of her uniqueness may come from the fact that she has been in danger of losing her sight for many long years of her life. Layla has spent her life treating Parkinson’s-like symptoms, transforming from a childhood in a wheelchair to a life of bountiful worldwide adventures and service. All while recording the reality of her life through the intimate images of fleeting moments she somehow catches. Each view of the world seems to have felt personal and fragile and magic. It’s as if her ability to record an image with her camera has been a way of saying that seeing, itself, is a form of magic.
Some of her universality may come from having a gypsy mother. Growing up, Layla was
forever in different schools and different countries, striving to capture changing realities with one of the cameras that were her most prized possessions from the age of seven. She was making images of the commonalities of water, sky, and nature, as if the universals were the only secure home. She has since focused her lens on the interior world of being female, capturing the strength, vulnerability, and resilience of women.
Whatever the reason, I’m pretty sure that now, having seen Layla Love’s images, you will be able to recognize them anywhere and always; no signature necessary.
Layla began her service work photographing women in the Congo who had self-mutilated to avoid being abducted into human trafficking. Inspired to help women around the world, she continued her journey as a photographic journalist. During her travels she was jailed and beaten in West Africa, sexully assaulted and left in the streets of Australia, and has seen and helped save women who have been affected by much worse.
Layla’s own vulnerability has given her an empathy with others who are vulnerable. Profits from this book will go to Rise of the Butterfly, a foundation that supports women who are recovering from being sex trafficked. The intention for this mission came during a conversation Layla and I had several years ago about using art as a means to create visual aid, art activism, and generate financial support for the women who need it most.
In this global slave trade, now facilitated by the reach and amorality of the web, profits for the few and harm for the many, rival those of the global trade in drugs and arms. Human beings are an infinitely renewable resource, unlike arms and drugs, with each re-usable many times. Yet each human being is the unique result of millennia of heredity and environment combined in a way that could never have happened before, and could never happen again. We are not interchangeable. We are unique. And we are linked by our humanity.
As Layla explains, “Art loses its ego when paired with purpose.”
This book brings us art and purpose. What could be better than that?
—-Forward to Her World Within
Written by Anthony Haden-Guest
It was as I was leaving that the young woman walked into the art party, carrying a portfolio. Knowing it had to be art, and being nosy by nature, I asked to have a look, which was why a sheaf of luminous photographs was one of the first things I registered about Layla Love. Another was her eyes, which were filmy, tentative. I had seen this before in people with vision problems. She told me that, yes, her eyesight was at risk. Impressive pictures, plus a threat of blindness at the outset of a career, that was too dark an irony, so I took an interest. This was ten years ago. Layla Love’s vision problem has been resolved, and her work has been developing richly, ambitiously and sometimes with a, yes, visionary touch. As you will discover for yourself in Her World Within.
Layla Love’s mission has always been to present life as women experience it and for this book she has chosen images from twenty-five years of work, beginning in her late childhood. I would not have gotten half the pictures I have taken if I had adequate parental supervision runs one of her sharp-edged headings. Fetal Position in Strawberry fields 1994 in the Spanish pyrenees, shows she had worked out her M.O. early. Love, then fifteen, has shot the fourteen-year-old friend she was holidaying with, lying down, wholly self-absorbed. It is captioned: What teenage girls do when unattended to. So it is mysterious. Art often is. In a photograph taken in Croatia eight years later a woman, wholly muffled in black, is digging her husband’s grave. But no mystery there. Love had asked her what she was doing.
So look at the photograph taken in the Salt Mines, Bogota, Colombia, in 2015. The presentation is theatrical – the painted woman is standing in front of wondrously knobbly salt walls and the caption informs us that the rifle at her side has been fused with a shovel and is sheathed with gold – but it seems that the theater worked because Love also tells us that some months later the government signed a pact with the underground army of FARC.
There’s quite a lot of body paint in Love’s work by the way, as in a shot that includes an intrusive cop car. Technically a layer of paint is equivalent to clothes, take that officers, she observes in a mordant caption. True, apparently. Useful knowledge, if so.
It happens that I am a true believer in the Age of Reason, now rapidly receding into the past, so I am temperamentally wary of what I will loosely call the spirit realm, but Love has earned the right to tread the landscape, to use this pictorial language. As in the remarkable picture of a carver of gourds, shot in the middle of the jungle, somewhere.
Love’s work illuminates the spirit realm, but she explore the rest of life too. Working photographers usually achieve a look and stick to it. Robert Mapplethorpe’s subject matter could be eye-poppingly transgressive but in terms of composition he was as austere as Avedon, as classic as a Parthenon frieze. Then Nan Goldin imported a snapshot aesthetic, appropriate to our surveillance camera times. And Layla Love? She does her own thing. Things, rather. For instance. Love is close to her two younger sisters and has often photographed them. You will see the way she captures her youngest sister, with blue hair and costume, looking into the camera, watchful rather than distrustful, immovably there. Or the other sister sitting in front of a graffiti-ed wall in Washington, DC, looking formidably self-possessed. That caption reads: When you’re fourteen and don’t give a fuck and the connection here has nothing to do with the sort of Hallmark sentimentality which has been well defined as “feelings about feelings.”
So much for the family album. But you will note that other shots mine Conceptualism. Like White Sands Desert, Arizona or Better Home and Garden, which could seem to reference Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha. Other images seem to channel the practices of transformation, such as the women looking through butterflies, breathing in flowers or a hummingbird and the young woman wearing a gown of improbable Alice in Wonderland length, wedding the wilderness.
Yet other shots are realistic, Magnum style. Of one shot, taken in Sydney, Australia, in 2004, she writes: Sometimes, art becomes survival. I awoke in a pool of my own blood after being assaulted while doing service work. No further detail is volunteered. And yet others are brilliant accidents, such as the woman lying in the back of a motorcar, with her two white high-heeled shoes poking out of the window towards the lens. Elliott Erwitt would have found a wry, witty image here. But this woman has a face fresh as an unshelled lychee fruit and is looking broodily sidewise. She belongs in Layla Love’ s world.
What deserves your attention is this. I have described a number of Love’s working personae and you will spot many others in these pages, but her photographs, whether factual or fantastical, drenched in symbolism or in-your-face real, are unmistakably hers. I suggested above that Better Home and Garden references the pictorial language of Conceptualism but the image is pure Layla Love. As they all are. “Maybe if I had been more physically healthy I would have been a street artist rather than a photographer,” Layla Love once told me. Yes, she was handed a lemon. But she makes tremendous lemonade.
Her World Within…
A photographic Series compiled by Layla Love
Women make the world go round, we are spun full of ideas, innovations, and a creative force. There is no force of nature stronger than our compassion for all that is living. We are uniting in these dark days to expose both our inner desires and our intentions for the world around.
This book is timely, we can see the hunger for female empowerment for the March for Women’s lives with over five million participants worldwide and is the largest movement on a united issue that the world has ever seen. People are starving for emotional and spiritual content to guide them through this time. I feel that I am on the pulse of this movement as I was at the very first planning meeting of this movement and I was backstage during the march itself to document those who give their lives to this cause. I have dedicated years of my life to listening to women’s stories as I have traveled the globe exploring the plights of women and girls in war torn and famished regions as well as the sorrows of the financially elite. I have learned of our strengths and vulnerabilities alike and have shared them in this book as objectively as I know how. This series of work does not provide answers, but rather opens the viewer up to treasure hunt through their own experiences just as an inspirational song would.
The work spans twenty years and spans five continents. The proposed book has 100 images of women from all walks of life, but could easily be expanded upon. My life’s work has been an investigation of women in a multitude of life circumstances each of whom is in a process of rising, and who I have photographed with the intention of inspiring humans to see more of each other and our shared nature. This book is designed to bring the spiritual and emotional nature in alignment to work in tandem with social justice and progressive movement. This book is an ode to the dance therein.
Each is a fusion of journalism, art, story sharing and storytelling. Together, the works document my exploration of the world through female eyes, my adventures through identity and sex – as both pleasure and pain. My obsession is endless optimism, is belief in transcendence and brilliance. I embrace the awe of life, even in the face of war and hatred, even after being raped and imprisoned in foreign lands. Look into my almond eyes as I stand among prostitutes and the Dalai Lama alike. “My life story is quite shocking when shown in its photographic entirety.
I have spent time with women from all walks of life and from all over this world. There are as many different stories as there are faces. Still, I see clearly that no matter what the degree of variation, we are all marginalized individuals. I am seeing only half of the human story play-out on this global stage. I claim no hold on Mother Earth. I see clearly that to achieve peace on Earth, there must first be a balance between male and female energy. There must be a redistribution of wealth, resources and knowledge between “the haves” and the “have-nots”. Women’s hopes and desires for the future of this world are not being enacted, are largely ignored, and more often than not, are brutally silenced. I want to live in a world where women can not only feel safe to walk down the street but also a world in which they can feel free to enjoy life in their own skin. I dedicate my life’s energy to lend a voice to the oppressed, the silenced, the ignored and to bringing women together, as multifaceted and complex a group as we are.
My art exposes our struggles, highlights the warmth of our fiery cores and apologizes for neither. May art tantalizes the senses just as everything borne of woman does. I want to be a spark.
My mission from here on out is to represent women through both my art and my actions. All of my photographic stories will focus on some aspect of the experience of womanhood. When I speak of women, I know that beyond our biology, beyond a heart that feels and a mind that thinks, beyond a womb, beyond a multitasking cunt that bleeds and fucks, that is the soft and tender center of awe-inspiring sensation, that is a life-making tunnel, beyond these common denominators there are an endless number of variables that affect how we experience our female bodies.
She of God
by Layla Love
—-Forward to She of God
Written by Reverend Michael Beckwith
Fires blazed before her altars. Magical potions were concocted to invoke her influence, bribes proffered for her favors. Forms, powers, qualities and personality traits have been given to the Divine Feminine, the spirit-energy which has been called by many names in Hindu, Taoist, Mayan, African, Egyptian, Roman and Greek civilizations, to name a few. The Sacred Feminine is an all-pervading cosmological principle present within all existence, and in the Hindu Devi Upanisad, 1-2, we find her own description of herself: “I am the form of the Immensity; from me the world arises as Nature and Person.” The She of cosmic creation is not under the monopoly of a religious ideology, a social, cultural or biological construct. She simply is.
Temples dedicated to the feminine principle have been built since antiquity, many of which still exist. In fact, historians place the heyday of Goddess worship from approximately 40,000 to 5,000 years ago with over 90% of the figurines found in archeological digs and anthropological studies to be of female goddesses. Contrary to the current trend of reducing ancient goddesses to a mythology, they obviously were not a myth to our ancestors who looked to them to sustain their very lives. In any age of human history—past, present and future—to be in the presence of the Cosmic Creative Principle is to stand before the Divine Feminine, the “She” of Creator Source.
Interestingly, many say that our current global view is imbalanced, evidenced by ecological irresponsibility, political and social concepts which some believe have caused our global society to move into a state of disequilibrium where relationship to oneself and the planet are concerned. Perhaps a collective acceptance of this recognition will give societal structures of the world motivation to change, to reinstate the immense value of reclaiming the feminine.
Layla Love has ushered in that process of reclamation throughout her life’s work, an expression of which you now hold in your hands. Far more than a deck of inspiring quotes from prominent historic and modern women, Love’s evocative photographs and a workbook, the She of God collection embodies in essence and form the omnipresent dimensions of the Feminine Divine. Love’s photographs disperse the law of feminine radiance, while the quotes explore in 7 categories the creative voices of women highly respected for their wisdom, intuition, compassion and evolutionary vision which bring the feminine forth in the personal and cosmic domains. Uniting their forces, they move women forward both individually and culturally, contributing to the evolution of the planet.
Share and gift it, as I am, to the women in my life I love and from whom I have received immeasurable blessings.
Michael Bernard Beckwith
Founder, Agape International Spiritual Center and Author of Life Visioning
by Layla Love
by Layla Love
“We celebrate our minds & our pussy’s’: Eroticize Equality & Rise of the Butterfly are a perfect union of cosmic pussy power & rebel forces.”
— Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot
by Layla Love
by Layla Love
by Layla Love
by Layla Love