“There’s something about being naked that gives a person a different expression on their face. When someone is naked, there’s something vulnerable about the look in their eyes. In some of these portraits, the people are naked, and even though you don’t see their bodies, I just like how their faces look,” says Daniella Midenge, a photographer known for her audaciously sensual, vivid, high-contrast portraits of nude women’s bodies.
Midenge’s striking imagery is the result of an organic and intimate process. “It started with small, intimate shoots with friends. It’s always just been me and a girl: there’s no big production. I do her makeup and there’s almost no other light sources, just natural light,” Midenge says.
“I never set anything in stone: it happens very organically and spontaneously. We just go outside and we crawl into a little spot somewhere and then things just unfold and we just play.”
Midenge’s compelling photographs walk a fine line between provocation and art. The images hold a power of expression; they elicit a certain gaze.
“When I started photography, I was really only doing what came from my heart. It was, and still is, all about taking photos that feel more like photography — not like fashion photography — something you put on the wall, something timeless,” she says.
But why naked women? Midenge’s fascination with the female figure started from a young age, when she used to regularly draw and paint faces, bodies, eyes, and lips. This interest, paired with her longstanding love for pictures and magazines, grew into a penchant for capturing beautiful and strong women.
“It’s a way to get immediate intimacy with a person. I love to see the transformation in a person — like at first they are a little bit thoughtful about it, and then by the end of the shoot, they’ll just crawl around. There’s something really liberating about it,” she says.
Midenge’s background — she comes from a creative family and has previously worked in makeup and art direction — put her on the path to being a photographer. Her photographic expertise is self-taught and driven by her desire to create beautiful images of women.
“I always thought being a photographer was such a technical thing, but it’s not really — I’m not a technical person at all. It’s more about feeling and art direction and knowing what to add and what to take away,” she says.
Sex & Cigarettes is a coffee-table book of Midenge’s favourite images, taken over the years in unexpected corners of the world including back gardens in Los Angeles and parks and beaches in Cape Town.
It’s a visual journey of Midenge’s artistic vision; an exploration of her driving artistic intuition. “I just go along to wherever my heart goes. I’m just following my feelings. Sometimes I don’t think: I just feel,” she says.
The book contains 132 black-and-white and vivid colour images of female models only, over 192 pages and includes self-portraits of Midenge.
“There can only be one man in my images — his name is Stephan,” Midenge quips. Stephan is her cat.
This article was originally published in The Edit, a fashion and beauty magazine sent out to select subscribers.