A Sexual Unraveling: Interview with Taylor Neal
In March 2022, Taylor Neal (she/they) put a call out for models who are interested in exploring pleasure from the inside out. Needless to say, I was very intrigued, so I reached out. Soon, a new idea emerged; a collaborative exploration of the landscape of pleasure - the body. Bonjibon sponsored Taylor to put together a photo collection titled “A Sexual Unraveling.”
A Sexual Unravelling will culminate in a gallery release party at Slice Next Door on April 29th in Vancouver, BC. There will be drag, burlesque, dildarts, and most of all: a shared passion for pleasure. - Katie, Bonjibon Co-Founder
Below is an interview with Taylor Neal about their collection.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your photography.
I am so excited to share this body of work, in collaboration with Bonjibon, with the broader sexual wellness and pleasure community.
I am a queer Canadian multidisciplinary artist, writer, yoga and dance instructor and frontline worker, and in all of my endeavors I am committed to an ongoing exploration of intimacy, sexuality, identity, gender, and how humans can foster loving relationships with their bodies. With my cumulative work and artistic practice, I strive to create and offer space for this exploration through art, movement, writing and community-based advocacy.
With my photography, I centralize on intimate portraiture, and I am deeply inspired by nature as an extension of sensuality and queerness. The experience of the photoshoot between myself and my subject is of utmost importance to me. Like sex, it is the journey and the experience rather than the destination and outcome that connects my photography to pleasure. Creating spaces for folks to come in and feel safe to self express and unravel in whatever way feels authentic to them in that moment, and recognizing that this is ever-changing, and allowing the experience of capturing the embodied subject in real time as they move through their fluctuations and cycles allows for a documentation of the human experience that can only be found through photography.
Analog photography specifically then, slows us down in a way that is anti-colonial, anti-hustle, anti-capitalist, and deeply feminine. In a world where everything is results-based, where value is based on efficiency and speed, and resources are extracted at a rapid, beyond-human pace, analog photography demands that we slow down and come into our bodies, into intention, in order to capture a moment. There is a finite resource; a roll of film, there is a fragile process and a trust of the self in exposing properly and capturing the shot you’re hoping for, there is a stillness required of the subject to sit in their experience as I reload my roll or re-measure my light, and then there is a further demand for patience and tenderness as the film is developed and becomes ready to view and share. In many ways, analog is innately sensual, and it has been such a joy to connect the mechanics of photography to sensuality with this project.
What is A Sexual Unravelling all about?
The Sexual Unraveling Project began as a personal project; an inquiry into the relationship between sexuality and the experience of having one’s image captured. I was interested in exploring what sexuality could look like when given a safe space to fully and authentically express, away from all of the pressures, oppression, gender and social norms, shames and stigmas imposed on sexuality from the world around us. When given the space to just be, how would sexuality look?
What is Bonjibon’s role in Unraveling?
I posted a call-out on my personal Instagram for folks interested in being subjects for a photo series within this intent, and Katie (co-founder of Bonjibon) reached out interested to learn more. Quickly this became a collaboration between myself and Bonjibon, to turn my little passion project into a fully fleshed out, collaborative project to explore together, the diversity of authentic sexuality, and how it looks when captured. Katie and Grace (co-founders of Bonjibon) were so supportive of the idea to collaborate on this project, and offered me a platform and sponsorship to help with bringing my idea to life.
Tell me about the process of unraveling with your models.
Through a series of 10 photoshoots with a diverse cast of subjects, I have had the honour of using 35mm film photography to capture a diverse cast of humans that stepped bravely before my lens and shared their truth before my lens. Each photoshoot was inspired and guided by the subject’s own visions, ideas, and interpretations of what a sexual unraveling looked like and felt like in their bodies. Each one is unique and very different, just as each person’s relationship to sexuality will be. I got to witness as each of my beautiful subjects sunk into the photoshoot experience and claimed their space in such a beautiful, natural way, and what an honour to be trusted in this capacity - I do not hold this trust lightly.
While the photos are wonderful to have, the real joy of this project was the experience of connecting with each subject in such raw intimacy, in their unraveling, and now we have photos to remind us of those times giggling, listening to music, rolling in the mud, and finding truth together.
What inspired you to explore pleasure through your lens?
Pleasure is such an interesting thing to try and bring into the 2-D visual realm, because it is only ever experienced through the senses and therefore can’t really be seen in the way we experience viewing an image. On one hand, pleasure is deeply subjective, intimate and vulnerable, and on the other hand it is very apparent when we view a photograph of someone and we can feel the subject’s pleasure through their captured, 2-D image. We are deeply energetic beings, and we can often feel discomfort from a photograph of a subject that was captured in discomfort, and we can also experience joy, and all other emotions, in this same way.
I was drawn to using photography as a way of documenting pleasure because I was interested in creating space for expansive, authentic pleasure to be felt, and using my camera simply as a witness rather than as a director. As mentioned, it was about creating the space and the process of the shoot, and then having some way of bringing this into a shareable realm so that it could be seen by broader communities, so that perhaps others will see themselves in these spaces in some way. These experiences are often kept behind closed doors, and so it was interesting to bring such intimacy out of the shadows, with ongoing conversations about consent, and what safety looks like and feels like for each subject. In now sharing the images, perhaps the photo series will permission its viewers to check-in with their relationship to unraveling. Or at the very least, perhaps someone, somewhere, will feel seen on their journey.
What are you hoping that people take away from A Sexual Unraveling?
If nothing else, I hope this photo series can act as a permissioning of the self, an affirmation that you are inherently loveable and beautiful in all of your expressions, and that you deserve to take up space. You deserve to be seen on your terms, and that sexuality does not have to exist in isolation.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Come to our gallery release party! After a year of incubating, patience and care, we are so excited to share this project with you all!
Also, if you’d like to connect further with me, you can find me at my website taylorneal.ca, on Instagram @nzzltea or through my podcast, Full Bloom Pod. You can also find my writing in the Bonjibon Magazine! I am always looking to expand community and connect with like-minded folks.
I also just want to extend so much gratitude for Katie and Grace, for believing in my art and offering so much support along this journey, and also just for being rad humans in everything they do. The space you create for gender-inclusive sexual wellness and pleasure is so important to this world. I just adore you both.