When the Blackbird Sings

Photographer Jannica Honey turns her lens to the spectrum of femininity in this dream-like exhibition

A hugely experienced magazine and commercial photographer based in Edinburgh, whose work has appeared in The List alongside publications like The Guardian, Vogue and Dazed & Confused, Stockholm-born Jannica Honey has delved into a very personal subject for her first exhibition at Edinburgh's Arusha Gallery. Echoing a photographic project she completed seven years ago in which she created portraits of strippers working in Edinburgh, When the Blackbird Sings explores the subject of femininity in atypical surroundings.

Taken over the course of a year, the works on display here largely consist of alfresco nudes of friends, family and acquaintances, each photographed in forested surroundings amid the flat light of twilight during full and new moons. It's a light which is perceived as being unflattering to the subject, but Honey finds it (as she says in the accompanying video) a contemplative time, and she invests her sitters with a dream-like, mythical air. Her subjects are young and old, mothers with their children (adult and infant), twin sisters and more.

There's no sense that any are made up, and if they are, the method of photography removes any form of artificial styling. These are frank images which crucially allow the subjects to be shown with no air of false modesty or shame in how they look, and it's interesting that I found the only image which didn't entirely ring true was an – admittedly beautifully shot – photograph of a young woman standing alongside a pair of white horses. She appears to be turning her body away from the camera and laughing with a hint of a blush; perhaps just at the fact the horse appears to be nuzzling her arm, but maybe with an air of modesty which doesn't sit with the rest of the project.

The otherworldly light and the poses of Honey's figures – reclining, cradling their child, flicking their hair artfully – reflect the tropes of fashion photography, but the majority of these works very cleverly turn the gaze back upon the viewer, asking them to reassess the flat-packed, bubble-wrapped images of beauty and intimacy that the media usually presents. In fact, this show was partly inspired by Facebook banning Honey for showing her nude photography on the site.

The show had its origins, she recently told the Scotsman, in 2016, when she tried unsuccessful IVF treatments as the world appeared to be politically melting down around her. As witnessed with the open flowers, the children, Honey's own mother amid the subjects, and the reputed effect of the moon upon a woman's cycle, this is a show about the fertility of a person and of the earth, and about so much more than the aspects of womanhood which are visible to others. In the era of #MeToo and the month of International Women's Day, it deserves our attention.

Arusha Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 25 Mar.

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