Los Angeles-based photographer Brandy Eve Allen created this series by photographing nudes, then painting their clothing and environments using pencil, watercolors and gouache.


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Brandy Eve Allen’s contemporary rendering of ancient myth invokes a palette of women’s bodies on backgrounds both imagined and experienced that explore identities both personal and cultural. Song of Songs takes us back to a time before the nude body was stigmatized as unequivocally sexual; in Allen’s Eden, women grapple with freedom and holding onto it, fitting into metaphorical boxes, and the ropes they tie themselves in with. At times almost overwhelmingly sexy, at others the nudes are not sexual icons at all.  There are many variables, and each is open to interpretation, resulting in a kind of freedom usually only found in works of whimsy. While playful and graceful, Allen’s Song of Songs is also serious, sincere, and, where hair falls heavy over an arm pinning down a walkway its body is constructing while the other raises a hammer, or a gartered leg is tethered to a weight that looks suspiciously like a grenade, dark. Allen grants us access to a world beyond duality, where intuition is the most trustworthy guide and we are free to question how we present ourselves.

Song of Songs asks its viewers to move beyond their comfort levels to acknowledge the connection between innocence and sexuality, just one example of polar ideas actually living in integrated harmony with one another that dependably surface in Allen’s work. The meaning of innocence, Allen explains, is not limited to chastity; “it is about entering realms without past baggage allowing one to be completely open, able to move forward and enjoy the ecstasy of life.”

Calling on one of the oldest known pieces of erotic poetry, for which the series is named, Allen manifests the intuitive imprints from past lives that contribute to the struggle of figuring oneself out in this life. Pencil and gouache are instinctively and meticulously drawn and painted over photographs printed on heavyweight paper; stenciled Hebrew text from the Old Testament incorporated with the figures gestures toward heritage and compounded life experiences. A love letter to the past, a dedication to the present moment, a wager on the future? Allen delivers all three at once.  One gets the sense that there is much more to keep unfolding as the women free themselves from their 21st-century trappings.


Words by Maya Weeks


See more of Allen’s work at