Wanda Orme: The Becoming Light of Water

The Notebook | 26th November 2018

The uncompromising image-maker on positive body-image, publishing her first collection of poetry and letting go of your ego

Wanda Orme is a visual artist and writer whose work effortlessly spans art, academia, and the fashion industry–her photographic work, in particular, has been exhibited both across Europe and in North America in just the last few years. The nomadic former model and prolific image-maker–who currently lives between Napoli and London–is indeed best-known for her subversive photography, which uncompromisingly explores objectification and celebrates the female form, but now she published her first book of poetry The Becoming Light of Water–a literary offering intended as a seasonal journey through being. It’s interesting to note that Orme spent her formative years living in London, before the pursuit of a PhD in Anthropology witnessed her make the jump across the pond to California, because it is arguably this grounding in academic investigation that gives her work its undeniable substance–cleverly exploring a highly emotive, and often sexual landscape of what it means to be truly alive. Here, the image-maker, writer and Mortimer House member discusses publishing her first book of poetry, and tells us why any true understanding of beauty requires one to let go of their ego.

Tell us about publishing your first book of poetry–has the poetic form always been important to you?
Publishing The Becoming Light of Water was both the expression of a journey and a journey in itself. Poetry has always been important to me, but I haven’t always shared it. It was, for the most part, a private practice until I met my partner, who encouraged me to put the book together. The poetry had been written, but synthesising it into the form of The Becoming Light of Water, which evolves over four seasons, happened in a very instinctual way. I sat having returned to London, with all the fragments on pieces of paper laid out–poems that had been written mostly during my time in America–and slowly, they came together in the form that you find them in now. I like that part of creation, stemming from somewhere deep and virtually unknown–I can’t tell you exactly why I did it that way, but the book is a whole for me, one revolution around the sun.

What does your poetry explore, for the most part?
My poetry explores the felt, the unspoken, the instinctual–sexuality, resonance, experience, and most fundamentally, change. All my life, I have heard repeated the saying 'people don’t change', and this is something I fundamentally disagree with. I think people change, are changed, by experience. I feel this in myself, and I see this in others.

What is your definition of beauty?
Beauty for me is a sensation; we experience it. This is where beauty’s power lies, not in an object or thing or being in isolation, but in its ability to engender feeling in another–it’s reaching out and in. We say we are ‘touched’ by it. It is an exchange. The sea for me is something that could best be described as beautiful, and almost impossible to capture in its entirety. I think this element of resistance to containment is an important part of beauty, and why attempts to capture it so often fall short–any interaction has to be approached with humility. I think true beauty has no time for ego.

How has your career as a model helped or hindered your journey as an artist?
Modelling liberated me to express myself in a way that I had not allowed myself to do publicly before as an adult, it enabled me to communicate directly using my body. As a woman this has always been a loaded zone of interaction, I appreciated the directness and the freedom of it. There are ways into freedom both through the mind and the body–I don’t view them as separate, but having been told all your life as a girl that your body should be controlled, hidden (to a certain extent), and even that you are responsible for protecting other people from its power, to eschew all this and confront the world with your body, the reality of it, was very liberating. Breaking away from any shame, towards an empowered view of the naked body that experience fed directly into my artwork, which is both subversive and celebratory when it comes to the body and sexuality.

Why does your art tend to explore the female form?
I suppose my art is necessarily self referential, and I’m trying to explore and express my own experience, but I am also trying to influence how people think and feel about their own bodies. My body is a central pivot–it is necessarily where I sit, as well as where I am perceived as sitting. Instead of viewing this as subjugating, I’ve tried to understand how the body–the meanings others attribute to it, as well one's own meanings– can be empowering. We live in this beautiful reservoir of essentially incredible knowledge and being which we barely understand. What better subject?