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Photographer and Author, Alyscia Cunningham, Discusses Her First Book, Feminine Transitions

Alyscia CunninghamWhat’s your background in photography? When did you start taking pictures and what inspired you? 

I grew up with art and music around me. My father is an artist. When I started college I was taking general studies because I was undecided on a major. Later I switched to physical therapy then graphic design.

Soon after I took my first photography class as an elective and fell in love with my connection with the camera. I was twenty at the time and enjoying the freedom of my youth and taking my camera with me everywhere I went. You could say I was carefree.

After encouragement from my classmates and photography professor, I switched my major to photography.

I’ve always appreciated the human connection and quickly realized photographing people (portraiture) was my niche. My inspirations aspired from the works of photographers Gordon Parks and George Hurrell. I love the message Parks communicates through his camera. It’s real, heart-felt and always well lit. Hurrell’s images are classy, feminine (his female portraits are gorgeous) and have a beautiful vintage feel. They both do extremely well with light and shadow and their technique motivated me to be the photographer I am today. 

How would you describe your style of photography?

I still find it challenging to put myself in a particular category but my style is distinctive. I love to play with light and shadow as I believe it truly brings out the beauty of an image, portraiture in particular.

My photography is more on the dark side (mostly shadows) and typically more on the serious side. Not mad, just serious. I usually tell the people I photograph not to force anything – simply be who they are and do what they feel to do. After that, I immediately get a sense of calm, which I think reflects in my photographs. 

Layout 1Can you tell me about your new book, Feminine Transitions?

Feminine Transitions is my first published photography book. Just as the title and subtitle states, it is a photographic celebration of natural feminine beauty in its pages.

It presents a series of portraits that reveal the elegance and subtly honest beauty of female faces from the ages of infancy to seniority. The youngest model I photographed was seven weeks at that time, while the oldest was one-hundred and three (who is now a fabulous one-hundred and six). All the women were photographed bare (no make-up or accessories) and I chose not to digitally manipulate the portraits in order to get that message across.

Layout 1What sparked the original idea?

Actually, I didn’t choose Feminine Transitions; she chose me. On the early morning of August 16, 2009, I awoke with the name of the title for my book. After reaching to the side of my mattress and grabbing my notebook (it was kept close by to write down the details of deep dreams and ideas as arising from sleep) I wrote down, Feminine Transitions. The concept and flow of images came to me a few months prior to this particular morning. Clearly envisioning a photography book compiled with portraits of females at distinctive stages of life accompanied by their thought, the concept and title were a perfect fit.

As weeks went by, I fine-tuned the details about my book concept. Not only was it important to me to create a compilation of images, it was also vital to include a thought from each model that would serve as an interpretation of the change in psyche as we transitioned though life.

I wanted to bring to light that as we evolve in age, we also mature mentally and highlight the beauty of our growth.

Can you share about the process of meeting the women and girls and taking their pictures?

To sharpen my focus on this project, I enrolled in a personal assignment photography class at Montgomery College in Maryland and immediately began my search for models. In the beginning, I photographed women who I knew personally.

Also, while out and about, I asked women in person (requesting for them and/or their daughters), starting off with a description of my project. At times, the challenge was not having a physical object to show exactly what I was referring to.

Nonetheless, most women of color were receptive. Unfortunately, ALL the white women (who I didn’t know personally) I approached wanted nothing to do with me or my project and it was made very clear. Hence the reason my book is mostly compiled of women of color.

I photographed whoever was comfortable with me photographing her or her daughter.

I happened to start off by photographing younger girls before moving on to increasingly older women. I found it very difficult to also get older women to agree to be photographed. Therefore, I began my search for them at local senior residences and centers.

Quite a few women also posted signs about my call for models of all ages at their jobs, schools and churches. As word spread about the book project, I started receiving calls from all across the state. Knowing that women were interested in my project, without knowing me, was a wonderful feeling indeed.

Feminine Transitions 3Why was it essential that the women not wear make-up?

My original thought was to simply celebrate the beauty of females in all age ranges, all bear with no accessories. The concept of no make-up didn’t come to me until I looked through my lens and saw an older woman with make-up on. It didn’t seem quite right, but I wasn’t sure what my hang up was.

Once I realized I couldn’t see her bare skin, I politely asked her to remove it. Since that day it became a requirement. The importance of “natural” beauty took center stage.

Unfortunately, it was also the deciding factor for those who chose not to participate. It was then that I realized the issue of beauty was much more serious than I ever knew. Therefore, I chose to focus on the simple fact that true beauty is all natural. I hoped to encourage girls and women to truly grasp that and to love themselves in their own skin.

Is there a particular message you’d like readers to take away with them?

I know now that Feminine Transitions is a tribute to that little girl who is constantly told by society that she is not beautiful. I want that girl to know that she is beautiful, just the way she is.

And for the older woman who hides behind her make-up and colors, her gray hair, I want her to take off her “mask” and be free to celebrate the changes that come with ageing.

And finally to the senior woman who feels that her wrinkles are a negative reminder of growing older, I want her to know that each line is a story map of her soul and her wisdom. I am not alone in honoring you and looking up to you for guidance.

I want every woman, young and old, to know that you are beautiful just the way you are.

Feminine Transitions 4When is your book launch party and are there any places still available?

I will be celebrating this beautifully unfolding four year journey of Feminine Transitions at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville, MD on Sunday, October 27, 2013 from 6-7:30pm. There are some spaces left and I strongly suggest anyone who is interested in attending to register via Eventbrite and come on time. The space holds one-hundred people but it is on a first come first serve basis. I will also have gift bags with a few really cool “all natural” samples.

Where can people buy the book?

Feminine Transitions can be purchased on my website (scroll to the bottom of the page for the purchase option). Or ebooks can be ordered on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Feminine Transitions coverWhere can you be found online?

FacebookTwitterLinkedinGoogle+Tumblr and Flickr.

About Ruth Jacobs (296 Articles)
Author of Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, a novel exposing the dark world and harsh reality of life as a drug addicted call girl. The main storyline is based loosely on events from my own life. In addition to fiction writing, I am also involved in journalism and broadcasting, primarily for human rights campaigning in the areas of sex workers' rights, anti-sexual exploitation and anti-human trafficking.

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  1. Photographer and author, Alyscia Cunningham, joins me in the booth to discuss her first book, Feminine Transitions | Alyscia Cunningham

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