A curation of over 12 years of photographic works, spanning from her early years in the industry to the present day; Shae Detar’s introductory book Another World – which will be released on March 31 published by Skeleton Key Press, is not only a documentation of the female form, but a celebration of it’s idiosyncratic heterogeneousness.
As referenced in it’s title, the book’s singular ambition is to indeed transport its holder to another world, one governed by Mother Earth, where women are all “unique, special and we are safe to exist just as we are.” Her photographs depict women, powerfully unabashed by their nudity, with painted on colour used to accentuate their silhouettes, in different, but equally arresting natural landscapes brings this ambition to life.
Shae Detar 1.jpg
Publishing a book is a significant step, especially when it’s your first time to do so. Was this always a goal of yours and can you tell me about the process, what made you take the leap?
During lockdown, an indie book publisher out of Oslo (Norway), Skeleton Key press, asked me if I would be interested in making a book, and it was the first time that I felt ready to make one. I just had to take out a loan in order to finance it, and after I figured that out it was one big learning experience. I fell in love with the process, and since I am a huge book collector myself, it is a beautiful feeling to have made one.
What inspired the book’s title? Was it important to you for this to carry through into the works themselves?
The images in this book were taken over the last 12 plus years, so the name for this series came instinctively after the fact. I always find myself describing my work as another world, and over the years I just keep using those two words together, so it just made sense for that to be the title.
On your Instagram profile, you’ve sporadically shared videos of your working process. Did you see an evolution in this? When it came to assembling your book, were there elements which you had to approach differently and did your thought process change as a result?
I started making videos of myself working in the studio as a way to allow people to understand that these images are physically hand painted. There is a lot of photography that utilises extreme colour modification within Photoshop and acts as a darkroom for photographers and that’s cool, but I wanted people to see that my process of exaggerating colour in my images is primarily physically applied by hand. Videos just give people a way to understand what it is that I do.
Making the book was a completely different process to my studio practice because it primarily consisted of editing and sequencing the images to flow nicely. I edited the book myself, so I really took my time with it and I learnt so much about my work through that experience.  I would say ninety percent of the time I am in the studio making my art.  Fifty percent of that studio time is creating the hand painted photos for the first time on small watercolour paper and that practice requires me to stay really open to being in the moment. Experimenting and creating the way a child creates means having no expectations except to play and stay open and that is crucial during that part of my process.  There is forty percent of my time that is based in the studio where I am taking those small pieces I created and making the large-scale versions of them.  This is when I am being very careful and fully concentrating, leaning on all of the years spent learning my craft through experience. Making mistakes in this phase is expensive, so I try to really be careful.  This phase means I am printing my images on large expensive paper and to mess up badly means re-printing it and starting over and losing money.  This phase also includes me building wood panels, and mounting the print to them and then layering with epoxy resin.  There is a lot of room for error so I am fully focused here in this phase.
The last ten percent of my job is taking volunteers out to the landscapes I've chosen and photographing them there. This is a really fun time, and I get to know people who were strangers to me, or deepen friendships with people I have photographed before. I get to experience new landscapes and it's really fun and a rewarding time.
The editing and sequencing of the book was such a new experience for me because I had never seeped myself so fully in my own work in that way.  I don't usually just sit around and look at my work and for months on end my job was exactly that.  I had to decide which images fit beside one another, which images to include or exclude and that process revealed some gaps in my work that I really hadn't noticed before.  I began to really see areas that I want to grow in going forward.
You’ve described your influences as being Vincent Van Gogh, Egon Schiele, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Henri Matisse. Did they play a role in shaping its direction?
I would say there are two ways in which these artists have influenced me, one way is that through reading their biographies and knowing their stories I have gained a sense of perspective. Being an artist can be so rewarding but it can also be really difficult to make a steady income at times and no matter how good an artist is, it doesn't mean they will find quote unquote success in the way that many people quantify the meaning of success. In reading the biographies about Van Gogh, Matisse and Schiele and many other artists, I began to see a common thread. Many of them never experienced being financially stable or having an audience that appreciated their work.  Some of them found that after years and years of struggle, or towards the end of their lives, but it never deterred their spirit or their efforts. Being an artist is not for the faint of heart and reading their biographies reminds me that I am not alone.
The other main way in which they inspire and influence me is their love of colour, their passion to create and their spirit, and it brings me comfort to look at their work and know their journey, its so relatable.
Shae Detar 2.jpg
It’s pointed out that “Another World undeniably mirrors our own reality, in which acknowledgement and acceptance of natural beauty is manifesting itself into a widespread cultural movement.” In which ways is the world you seek to conjure in this body of work far removed from the one in which we live?
In my book, the images I make revolve around a world in which our nude bodies are not sexualised in the way they are in real life.  The truth is, when I am out in the middle of nowhere with models, I am full of fear, and worry about our safety in these deserted areas. I don't let the models sense this and I don't ever talk about it out loud, but I feel fear because of the fact that we are women out alone in the middle of nowhere.  The reality is, we are vulnerable, we are at night walking home alone, and even in the morning jogging, or at a party, or at a gas station on a road trip.  It just is the reality for women and I was raised with someone who was raped and I think they wanted to protect me and shield me from that ever happening to me, so they unintentionally filled me with fears over that issue.  I was taught to have eyes in the back of my head and to be super aware of my surroundings at all times and I think it really affected the way I move through the world as a woman.  As I got older, I realised I am not alone in this feeling and that a lot of women are really careful and conscious of their surroundings and their safety, but it's something that I wish we didn't have to deal with.
In Another World, our bodies aren't sexualised and we aren't threatened or vulnerable.  It's a world that I don't think exists, because I think that no matter where you go, our bodies are sexualised whether we are nude or not, but in my book, they are not. In my book, we are all unique and special and we are safe to exist just as we are.
Which words do you hope people most associate with this body of work?
I hope people will consider it beautiful and inspiring.
This alternative dimension, dwelled in solely by women, introduces us to a space in which the splendiferousness of the nude anatomy, and its multifaceted forms are straightforwardly appreciated, the ending result is a book which is laudatory of the corporality and sentimentality of a heterogeneous group of women. What do you want it to narrate to readers about your own professional and personal experiences, first as a model, the subjective of the gaze and today as a photographer, a woman who controls it?
I love the output of artists of all genders, and honestly I don't generally think too much about that when I look at people's work.  I really understand artists, because I am one, so I know that we are each just expressing different layers of our lives within our work.  It's very personal, it's intricate, it's complicated, it involves play, fear, discovery, it takes years and years of practice and mastering something.  It consists of all of these experiences that you have everyday, the things you dream about, the people you meet, the poems you've read, and songs you've heard - it’s everything inside of you coming out into a moment of creation. A moment of creation that is full of years of experience.  So, this idea of the male gaze vs the female gaze, I don't really concentrate on it even though I know it exists.  I think both gazes can be and should be valued, because human expression and human experience consists of all of the differences that each of us has and that is what makes the world go round.
I think there is room for everyone's experiences to show through in art, but it is exciting that women's voices have a place at the table now.  It's incredible to see Katy Hessel's book The Story of Art Without Men popping up on all of these bestseller lists. I feel immensely proud and grateful to be able to express myself and so honoured that women come with me on the journey through making the work. I am really mindful of the experience that my models have when we art adventure. Having been a model when I was younger, I know first-hand what it feels like to be on the other side of the camera, which has allowed me to empathise with their experience, which is important to me because I want them to feel safe and protected.
In saying so, were there any challenges to this, and how did you overcome them? What about the gratifying moments?
There will always be people who won't like what I make and that's ok. There is enough art in the world for everyone to find what they like somewhere out there. I will always create art for myself, but it is really a beautiful feeling when someone cherishes something or relates to it too. I find it so gratifying to get messages from women who have felt seen and appreciated by seeing my work.  That truly moves me.
Shae Detar 3.jpg
During a previous conversation with METAL, you expressed the ambition for your projects to take on a large-scale format. Has the message at the forefront of your work changed with the release of this body of work, or has it merely taken on a different format?
This particular body of work spans over 12 years and it's been an evolution of growth from the beginning.  It started out with me learning photography from scratch, from the darkroom to digital, to painting photos with oils in the traditional way to finding my own process, just using watercolours, and then going from small scale to large scale output.  The transition from small to large scale took time and practice, doing it over and over again and making a lot of mistakes and growing from them.  I love working large scale now and it is my favourite way to work. It really just took time to get better at it and now I have a real handle on it.  Learning to build the wood panels to mount my work to was also something that took time to get better at.  Evolving is so important to me and it keeps me excited and interested in my medium, and I wouldn't be an artist if I wasn't open to always growing and learning and evolving.
Being introduced to the cover for Another World for the first time, it connotes the idea that this a book about, both our perception and our way observing, whilst seeking to introduce us to a contemporary way of doing both. How would you expand on this statement, and can you talk me through how the concept for the cover took shape?
The cover is really precious to me because it has a personal story that goes along to it. My niece Sakura is half Japanese, and she’s 16 now, so beautiful and I am so proud of her but when she was around 8 or something she experienced someone making fun of the shape of her eyes.  I remember it so vividly, and I was trying to build her confidence up and share with her that it is so amazing to embrace our differences and to be proud of it. It really broke my heart though and I hated that she was experiencing that and it always stuck with me. So, when it came time to choose a cover for my book I knew that I wanted that image of her eye. I asked her and her parents permission to use the image and they all said yes and I felt so excited because I wanted this book to highlight that we are all unique and we are all special.  Every single person is a gift and her eye and the meaning behind it just says everything to me about what I wanted the book to be.
Back in a 2015 interview with us you expressed that you used to shoot in film only, before making the switch to digital photography, and explaining “the final image is what matters.” Without revealing too much of your professional secrets, can you tell me about your process of taking photographs today, and how you view this as having evolved from that time?
I think I've got more efficient and found better, more practical ways of creating the work.  It takes years and years to learn a craft and all of those years of experience are full of failure and successes and you learn to build on each experience and grow from it.  I think that my work right now is the best it has ever looked.  If you were to go to a gallery and see it in person (which is how I wish everyone could experience it) I think it would be more powerful now than it ever has been.  I love the physical pieces of the images from the book and I hope to be able to show these large scale pieces in a show when the timing is right and the right gallery comes along.
Later in the same interview, you reveal that when you’re painting you “go between classical, film scores,” and at the time hip-hop. Did you have any anthems which you listened to on repeat during the course of bringing Another World to life?
I still listen to classical and hip hop!  But I have been really nostalgic the last 2 years and listening to a lot of first and second wave emo and also indie rock from when I was a teenager and my early twenties.  I've been listening to a lot of Fugazi, Sunny day Real Estate, Jimmy Eat World's first two albums, Elliot Smith, Mazzy Star, Radiohead, At the Drive in.  I was really putting certain songs on repeat, like Fugazi's Waiting Room, and Sunny Day Real Estates In Circles.
Shae Detar 4.jpg
In your work, the undressed woman is a signatory presence, something which has undoubtedly carried forward into your book, for which Azu Nwagbogu writes “For all its ethereal variety and landscape, it is women’s bodies which are the focus of the images in Another World. There is a sensual celebration of fleshly reality in the different poses – writhing, contorted, proudly upright or lying-in relaxed repose – of these bodies.” In saying so, is this a book about challenging society’s perception of the female form or changing it?
I'm not really trying to challenge or change anything; I'm just expressing my own personal journey over the last 12 plus years of making images. All of these years photographing nudes has been a way for me to understand and work through my own perceptions of the female form. When I was around 13 we started going to church and some of the messages that the youth pastors were teaching us really impacted me.  My parents are the coolest and I am so close with them and they weren't aware of what we were being taught at the youth group at church and I never discussed it with anyone. I was also home schooled from 13 years old onward, which was the most amazing experience, but I never had sex ed class and the kids I hung out with were mostly from church, so I never heard anything else about our bodies except from these youth group settings. There was a lot of negativity surrounding our bodies, and the topic of sex and sexuality involved shame and guilt and confusion narratives and words like sin were thrown about. Years later, as a new artist and as an adult, I was no longer going to church or surrounded by those narratives and yet when I started photographing nudes in the beginning I had these thoughts in the back of my mind still lingering as to whether I was doing the wrong thing. Those were impressionable years and we were being taught that wearing shorts or short skirts was going to make the men in the church lust after us. It was as if the lust that men had was our responsibility and it was up to us to dress accordingly.  That's heavy and that took time to let go of.  I also struggled with not wanting to exploit our bodies and feeling vulnerable in showing skin, as if showing more skin would encourage rape and since I was so afraid of that, it was just this whole subject that I had to work through the first few years.  So, photographing nudity has been sort of a journey for me in understanding some of that and letting it go. It has been very freeing.
I don't know that we will ever change society's perception of the nude form entirely - there are just too many cultures and religions that feel a certain way about the nude form. So much of the built in responses to nudity reflects how we were raised, what your culture or religion or family felt about the body. There's no way we will ever be able to change society overall, there are just too many factors for that. But I hope the book makes women feel inspired and proud to be women and I hope encourages others to go out and to create.
Justifiably, there is a level of intimacy and vulnerability which goes hand-in-hand with taking photographs in this way. How do you seek to find a balance as an image-maker between the way you see the people in front of your lens, and the way in which they want to be seen?
I think most of my volunteers know the kind of images that I make and they know that they may end up painted a different colour, or collaged, and I think that they trust me.  I think that they are excited to be on an art adventure and look forward to the experience of going into nature in this way. It's really brave, courageous and also can be a lot of fun too, you are sort of stepping into the unknown. I never know what I am going to make, and they don't know what I am going to make, so I don't know if they have expectations, but generally I sense that they trust me and I really appreciate that trust. I can't make what I make without that trust. But that's a great question. I have been thinking of starting a podcast to talk to other artists and models and that would be a great question to begin with.
The women portrayed in your images are depicted as basking in their fortitude and vulnerability. Was it a difficult process of finding a middle-ground between those spectacularly contrastive emotions, let alone photographing them?
The locations are such a powerful part of my work - we are hours and hours away from home and there are very few humans to be found out in the middle of nowhere so it's sort of scary and amazing at the same time. I've completely fallen in love with nature through this journey of making images in landscapes. Nature is so important to me now. I find myself wanting to be in forests, deserts or mountains all of the time. One thing women often say is how empowered they feel being nude in these awesome landscapes. I hear that over and over again.  There is something so interesting about nature and nudity and I think it's the same as when you look up at the stars in the sky at night, you just sense how small we are and how little we all know.  You realise that we are all just little specs on this earth, just one of many planets.
Perspective is everything in my mind, because all of the little things that become so big in our eyes on a day to day basis, don't mean as much when you have perspective. If you were told you would die tomorrow or next week, most of the silly things we get worked up about would fade away and you'd concentrate on the people you love, the animals you love, the things most dear to you. I think that is something that I think about a lot as I age and I am more aware of the fortitude and the vulnerability of life in general, and how beautiful everything is if you just slow down and make time to appreciate all the little things. The trials we go through, all the lessons we learn, all of it makes us grow and through growth and through empathy and through grace, we come out with a better way of seeing the world and each other.
Is this book an emancipatory tool, one which gives you the opportunity to rail against stereotypical notions of beauty, and instead interpret it for yourself?
I know stereotypes will persist as long as we exist as humans and I think we are all guilty of stereotyping one another, whether we do so consciously or unconsciously. We all make mistakes and we all unintentionally hurt one another, and hopefully each of us can grow and evolve over time. I make mistakes, I have so much love inside of me and I am such a big giver, but I have hurt people and had to apologise and I have had to hope for forgiveness and its just part of being human and part of evolving, so I don't  have any interest in railing against anything. I do hope that the book makes women feel proud, and that each of us can revel in our uniqueness. I love supporting other artists and especially women artists, because we have had a harder time in the art market for as long as there has been one.  It is exciting to see the growing list of women artists out there.
I’ve read that you navigate your artistic practice as a “form of escapism.” In which ways does this book take people with you on this journey?
This was something I actually didn't fully understand until the last few years. You see, when my husband and I met we were 20, and I had never dated anyone before that.  He is my first and only kiss, which is wild to think about 25 years later.  But, when I was 20 I didn't think about having kids, and whenever the subject came up he always said he didn't want any and I was like, yeh I don't know if I do either.  I just didn't know at the time.  When I hit 30 that desire kicked in and all of sudden I was married and we had moved to Los Angeles a few years earlier and I was homesick and I started really wanting to have a child.  He's an incredible guy and so sensitive and he was open to having one child for me, but I knew he really didn't want one and I just didn't feel comfortable with forcing my best friend to have a child if they didn't want one, especially a fellow artist. I just didn't want to mess with his own dreams and his own space as an artist. He would have done it for me, but I just didn't feel right about it. I spent a decade really struggling with that and I think I coped by taking care of my special needs rescue dog Waylon. He was very very sick from day one and I honestly kept him alive and thriving through my complete dedication to him and his health. Waylon and I were so insanely close and so connected and he was my best friend all of those years living in Los Angeles and wanting a child and missing my family.  He was with me from day one of becoming a photographer/artist.  he came on almost all of my photo shoots and sat by my side through all of my painting.  Waylon died in 2020, right before I began editing this book and it was the first time I felt completely lost to my own self.  I didn't know how to keep going, I didn't know how to get through each day.  I realised through editing this book, without him by my side, how much his love and friendship carried me, and how much the images I was making were forms of escapism. The homesick feelings, the longing to have a kid, I was filling holes in my life with art. I think Waylon and art became the substitute child that I never got to have. It sounds so dramatic when I say it like that but I think its true. Art has given me a reason to exist in many ways. I know that everyone we love in life will die if we outlive them, but I will always be able to create as long as I have the mobility to do so. There are 2 things I know for sure and that is that I will always have animals and always make art.
Another World.jpg
Light From Within.jpg
Into the Unknown 2.jpg
Before the Future Begins.jpg
The Last Goodbye.jpg
The Magician 2.jpg
State of My Soul.jpg
Svala Lagoon.jpg
On Earth These Secrets Keeping Final 2.jpg
Windwood Hill.jpg
Valley of Fire Final.jpg
Tanglewood .jpg