A mystical ode to water
Society has a tendency to generalize a traditional gaze on what masculinity is through popular culture, but Denisse Ariana Pérez looks to lay bare new representations of male identity through visual narratives. "I think masculinity, just like femininity, is at its most powerful and beautiful when it allows itself to be flowing with different energies, not stifled and caged in dams," she explains when reflecting on her latest project Agua.
"I feel like water brings out a very peculiar cocktail of feelings in people. It can evoke reflection, joy, escape, and hope," muses the Caribbean-born and Copenhagen-based photographer. The body of work spanned over two years and took her to Uganda, Senegal, and Denmark—but the pandemic curtailed plans to travel to Asia. The journey began as an exploration of African masculinity, but a "gut feeling" took her across continents to instead document the liberating and meditative state of water. Documenting communities of women, men, and non-binary folks, her sensual work explores nature and healing through a nexus to water. To Pérez, water is a therapy that encompasses the human body when together.
"I grew up in a city in the middle of a somewhat big island, surrounded by mountains, not by the ocean, which kind of goes against the stereotypical fantasy of a Caribbean island in many ways," she explains. There was no adolescent admiration for the sea as she lived several hours drive away from a beach. Then three years ago whilst between Peru and Ecuador with her aunt, she encountered a sense of "reverence and connection to nature from some wonderful earth healers." This was a catalyst to create work that was more connected to this sentiment. Pérez suddenly felt connected to water and wanted to bring this feeling to others. “Water can detach you from facades or personas," she explains and recalls this being the moment that her work began to transpose into new areas.
"I believe people have the potential to find new forms of peace when in water or when in profound connection with it. Many people fear water and its power, I have met many people during this photo series who are not comfortable in the water, and part of the photographic process was for them to somehow let go and relax, even if only for a momentary release, an ephemeral sense of peace if you will," she tells us. For someone to connect with water, they have to "allow themselves to flow with it, not only physically, but floating with its energy. It can make us more fluid, less stagnated, and rigid," Pérez says.
Throughout the series, but in particular with young boys and men, she noticed that once submerged in a river or water, there was no masquerade or pretense to exude macho manhood. She suggests the water disarms "even the most armed of facades." Being at one with water isn't about rushing, but instead flowing. There are no societal expectations when within the water, and this is the message that Agua manages to convey. Pérez says, "I can only hope my images can evoke any form of emotion in viewers, any emotion." Her photography captures the raw beauty of friendship and individuals in a natural light removed from the conforming pillars of society, especially for men. Water is like a supernatural medium for individual freedom, it is an invitation to find peace with nature and oneself.
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