I would like to put the following out there:
There are numerous words that describe the female genitalia, beginning with vagina, vulva, yoni, pussy, as well as many others. In talks with women it became clear that some invented words, because the commonly used words are not appropriate. Then there were women who did not feel comfortable speaking about their genitalia with a word which created obscene or inappropriate associations. I chose the word yoni*, because for me it is the most pleasant, and it comes from a time when the female genitalia was worshipped, which is something that I want to remember as much as possible.
Why I made this book…
The goal of this book is to offer another perspective to the general public about the female genitalia (the vagina, the yoni) that is outside of pornographic or medical, as well as outside of religious, power-based, and humiliating representations. This was made possible by the help of photographers and photomontage, as well as the creative and artistic integration of natural pictures and paintings, and other graphic media. It aims to display the beauty, diversity, and originality of the yoni. Respect for the gloriousness of creation and the wonder of Life are the background to this book. This book project aims to support women in their process of self-discovery and self-awareness. We invite men with a respectful and open view to use this form of presentation to curiously observe without judgment. Here is the chance to observe calmly without motivations. The possibility to look at this mystical, hidden part of the female body, the yoni, with another perspective helps us to escape from society’s propensity to secrecy, perversity, and intellectual degeneration. Children and teens should also have the opportunity to see and understand these pictures. It is not about returning to the same old war of the sexes of generations past. This way, through solitary attempts of self-discovery, guilt that is nurtured through ignorance and taboos can be eliminated.
How it began…
In my youth, as my yoni began to change, I witnessed this with horror. I was sure that there was something wrong with me when the skin had become darker, and as uneven lappets formed. There was no one, neither male nor female who could explain to me how a vagina changes when a girl develops into a woman. I knew that women grow hair and begin to bleed monthly. But as for the forms my body developed in this place- they shocked me deeply. Back then I felt the wish to be able to see the yonis of other woman, to see how other women look “down there.” One can see once in awhile how a small girl looks because children walk around naked comfortably. There is no hair or shame to conceal or make this area invisible. I was acquainted with and knew these small “bread rolls” made up by the large lips of the vulva, and wanted them back. However, I had strange folds and brownish skin between my legs. How nice, that at the same time I developed hair and no one could see it directly. At some point I got used to it all. But I certainly was not happy with it, and I didn’t feel right about it, never mind regarding my yoni as beautiful.
What occupied me…
The fact that men seem to know more about the diversity, shape and [composition] of the yoni than many women made me think. I wondered why this body part was so strongly affected by taboos. Since I grew up in East Germany, I never had contact with pornographic depictions- only with medical ones, which were just drawings and looked a lot more like bread rolls than anything that had developed on me. Nudity was normal in our world, but even there you only saw hairy triangles. And I did notice that no woman lies at the beach spreading her legs like many men do. In the course of my life, I discovered that I am all right. But discovering this was not easy, and again and again I wished for the “hidden-ness” around the yoni to dissolve. In our time, when it has become natural to deal with one’s own body, to use contraception consciously, to go to the gynecologist, etc., it cannot be that women do not know how other women’s yonis look. How different and diverse nature has created this body part, which has such an important part in human history. We develop the most delicate machines to reach the remotest places of the body with our cameras, bringing the interiors to the screen, but the female genitalia have stayed a taboo. I have named this book “Gate to Life” because almost every person on earth (except those born with a C-section) has been pressed to our world through this hidden, shamed, and often disgraced body part, the yoni.
How it became concrete…
Later, as I decided to found a community project to live and work together with other people, this theme became more intense in my life. Then it became apparent that I was not the only one who was insecure and had questions and doubts about this place. Similar themes came up in discussions with women. I encountered time and again women who spent half of their lives fighting complex feelings of fear and shame because they lacked knowledge of the character of their yoni. I met a few women who gave seminars concentrating primarily on the yoni and the surrounding womb. I realized there are many women who wish for more transparency, and are ready to search for possibilities of how and where they can find this. Some women busied themselves with pornographic material for lack of a better alternative. For many women this is uncomfortable, because to research their yoni is not necessarily about sexuality. Rather, it is foremost a part of the body which women want the right to look at and study without bias.
In 2006 I suddenly got a very clear picture- somewhat in the form of a daydream- of how the book would appear, and how I would bring it to life. I realized that I had all the capabilities to make the book that I always thought I must make. These images were so clear and strong that I began the next day. I researched, contacting seminar instructors, bookstores, and friends, and realized that the resonance is big and that people are curious and interested. It was certain that this sort of book would sell well because there is not a similar book on the market to this day. I then decided to begin my work. It became apparent that the most challenging part was to photograph the yonis. On the other hand, natural photos, the layout of the book, the production, and marketing were all issues with which I had no difficulties, or questions about. My years of experience as a graphic designer, and my preference for Photomontage and image processing, made me really glad to do this part of the work. I felt the desire to establish my own publishing company in order to be as independent with the marketing as I wished. Because of my experience in publishing, even this was not new to me, rather it was exciting and a welcome challenge.
How the Yoni Photos came about…
But how do I get yoni photos? I was certain that I wanted to take the photos. Initially I thought it would be a good opportunity to take photos within one of the many seminars that address women’s issues. I had contact to a few seminar instructors, but it was soon clear that for several reasons this would not work for me. In my vision, I was clear that I wanted to photograph many, perhaps even 100 different women, to be able to show a large variety. In order to photograph, I envisioned some sort of seminar area and atmosphere in which many women would engage in these issues, and then have the desire to take a photo. But I wasn’t exactly sure how this could really work. It was a long process that proved I still had my own inhibitions, even though I was mentally clear about this theme. I just didn’t trust myself to photograph the most intimate place of a woman… I didn’t know how I could observe without being invasive, obscene, superficial, or any other way that being uncomfortable can feel.
There were a few occurrences in my life that allowed me connect my mental clarity with my feelings. I felt I wanted to create a space to photograph in order to invite women to come. For women who wanted to dive into this theme, I offered a daylong event with sauna, dance, talking circles, body painting, meditation, massage, delicious food, and intense sharing. There were also evening events that were not so intensive, and were mostly attended by women who were already addressing this theme, and therefore comfortable with it. There were also some women who preferred a private photo session, because a group atmosphere was not the appropriate space for them.
This is how the photos came about. For five months I had photo sessions with women, cooked soup, baked cake, made salad…. The majority of the women were a circle of friends from Fläming, as well as from Berlin and its outskirts. It was fascinating and challenging work for me, and would not have been possible without the women who are interested in this topic. We created an experimental, soft, and open space, which was new and different each time according to the theme the women who were present brought with them. An example of one of these themes was how the yoni looks differently when sexually stimulated. We made photos in “normal” states, watched an erotic film for ten minutes, or a woman gave yoni massages, and then I photographed again. The obvious changes were very strong and astounding. The theme of “opening” was equally fascinating, as we discovered how differently on each individual woman one can see if the yoni is “open” or “closed.” In discussions we exchanged experiences and feelings on this and other themes, which created a healing and naturally trusting space in which the wonderful photos could be made in a creative and playful way. I thank all the women for their trust, openness, and curiosity, and for the many themes that we moved and felt together. I photographed a total of 65 women, between the ages of 18 and 75, and took over 1000 photos. At the same time I took photos in nature in places that the color or form reminded me of yonis. Some nature photos and pictures were made from friends and acquaintances.
What touched and moved me deeply…
The work on this book made a few waves in my life. For example, it wasn’t easy for me to tell my parents what kind of project I was working on. In the beginning I encountered many misunderstandings, coupled with loving tolerance. Nevertheless, I could sense how embarrassing and uncomfortable the theme of “yoni” was for my parents. I was suddenly aware of my intricate situation; in my wish to reach an expansive public I would cause my parents extreme uneasiness. This notion burdened me, and I asked myself if I could really do this to my parents. This is why, after many open discussions, it moved and touched me even more when my mother allowed me to photograph my “gate to life”-- her yoni. With this, I would like to thank my Aunt Else, who after a family gathering where I told my relatives about my work, had the courage and lucidity to let me photograph her yoni. This was truly a gift, because I know that this theme was even more taboo for the generation of those who are now in their 70’s. I adore her for how uncomplicated and direct she is about this. After my father read the prologue for the first time, his rejection of this theme gave way to a conscious understanding. This obviously relieved my mother and me.
A woman from Berlin especially touched me with her story. She was born in a man’s body and decided at 22 to have a sex change because in our society she wasn’t able to live as a woman. Even though her yoni is an artificial “product,” I decided that she, too, had a place in this book. I have seldom seen a woman who is so proud and happy with her yoni and so consciously in loving contact with it.
What I observed through my work…
During my work I experienced time and again that a process was triggered in the women as well as the men who were confronted with the theme of this book. This process shifted disgust to fascination, and insecurity, speechlessness, shame, and uneasiness to feelings of freedom. Many people completely changed their thinking and feelings about the issue “female genitalia” because they had a chance for the first time to address this topic in a very different way. Interestingly, there were few people who found these focused photos erotic. With many it was a mix between amazement, shame, shock and curiosity. Few men were able to find their partner’s yoni when shown three or four yoni photos at once. Even women had difficulties finding their own yoni within several other photos. This is understandable, since we don’t see things the same as when looking through a telephoto camera.
This experience showed me that women and men who have not yet concerned themselves with this theme often have a hard time looking close-up at yonis. Many reactions that occurred made it clear how difficult it is to invite people to look at such photos in a loving and curious way. For this reason I decided for the first few pages to be photomontage, in order for the observer’s eyes, mind, and soul to get used to looking at a yoni in a very careful, humorous, creative, and charming way. Following this are the more concrete and clearly focused photos.
This book touches upon so many levels with this theme, that it can only be an invitation to take the first step to look in another way. The emotions and thoughts triggered for each individual are diverse, depending on cultural, religious, and previously formed impressions. My wish for this book is to bring the observer beyond his or her previous point of view to find a loving connection with the yoni.
*Yoni comes from Sanskrit and means the female genitalia. It is used mostly in connection to Tantra.
Translation: Christa Cocciole