Edward Weston wrote more than once about photographing the “quintessence” of every subject, whether it be the human body or a botanical specimen. Exploration of sensuality and melancholy–A State of Nature

, a new project from the photographer Daniel Dorsa and the producer Tina Michelle Chen from the ROOT Creative team, is a contemporary look at the timeless principles artists have grappled with for generations; decades after Weston, they set out in search of those elusive but “quintessential” truths about our bodies, our relationships, and our desires.

Here, models Jullian Culas and Angela Carter inhabit their own kind of Garden of Eden. They find themselves surrounded by lush but minimal plants, seen mostly in shadows that dance across their skin. Carter is an aerial dancer, and Culas is a high-fashion model, making for a one-of-a-kind pairing, and while Dorsa usually works in color, the team chose black and white for this series. “There’s a certain intimacy in black and white photography–a silence that speaks in volumes,” Chen tells me.  The shoot took place at the ROOT BKN studio, and as time progressed, new shapes, forms, and visual puns emerged. 

“There was a frame where Angela was holding up Jullian,” Chen remembers. “[It was] reminiscent of a new budding stem wrapped around an already formed grown stalk. The beauty and sensuality of the human form against the natural light seeping into the studio really hit a note for me.” The team refrained from anything but minimal retouching for the State of Nature images; in contrast to our over-produced modern lives, they wanted the final photographs to be as real and as pure as possible.

In a digital culture, it’s easy to lose touch with the natural world, and by extension, our own selves. Here, Carter and Culas find themselves suspended in space, without any fixed environment to root them firmly within the past, the present, or the future. They belong nowhere and to no time in particular, and for that reason, they could be anywhere at any time. They are at once anonymous and familiar, as if Chen and Dorsa have stripped back the layers to reveal the core elements of our experience– and the very quintessence of who we are in relation to each other.

Asa Marie Camnert did the casting for Exploration of sensuality and melancholy–A State of Nature, and Stacey Louise Grant did the hair and makeup. Daniel Dorsa’s assistant was Spencer Wells, and Tina Chen’s assistant was Molly Jordan. As it happens, our Print Swap exhibition will be taking place at ROOT BKN tomorrow; you can learn more about the studio here.