When Diana Deaver points her camera toward someone, she looks for the clues that tell the story of that person's soul, at that moment in time. Are the eyes calm and clear or wild with passion? Is the body angled in a way that invites the viewer to come hither, or does the stance scream defiance? For Deaver, a Romanian-born model-turned-photographer, the goal is the same: to find the beauty that is naturally present in the human body. Because beauty is there, she'll assure you of that. It's just a matter of finding and photographing it.
So why is it, she wonders, that it is so rare to hear someone in the United States discussing their own body in positive terms?
"There is a harsh, critical attitude toward the body here," she says. "Everything on TV is about how to change the body, how to slim, how to sculpt, or what operation to get. You never hear people talking about what they enjoy about their own bodies."
It was exactly this line of thought that sparked the inspiration for The Sensuality Project. "What if we encouraged people to focus on what they liked?" Deaver asks. "What if we could bring people around to appreciating, rather than feeling bad about, their bodies?"
While visiting Romania over the holidays, Deaver, who became a U.S. citizen a few weeks ago, began planning the project. What she wanted to create was a photography exhibit that evoked a sense of being enraptured by the body, to be in love with how it looks, how it feels, and what it can do.
"The Romanian spirit is very much about music and dance," she says. "This is where I first fell in love with the whole process of finding beauty through color, exposure, and lighting. It was a natural inspiration."
She began making her vision a reality as soon as she returned to Charleston, where she makes her living as a professional photographer, shooting commercial projects and weddings as well as teaching at the Center for Photography.
For her subjects, Deaver chose people who are, as she puts it, "comfortable in front of the camera but not professional models." These are all quite beautiful people, but, even so, they are beautiful people with regular day jobs, people with children, people who do not spend their typical weekdays on fashion runways — though some of them will be familiar to Charleston's fashion community.
Before each photo shoot, she made a simple request: what do you secretly admire about your body? When no one else is around, and it's just you and your mirror, what makes you smile?
Whatever the answer turned out to be, Deaver arranged the shoot around that aspect of the body. Using her natural talent for accentuating beauty through photography, she created a series of images that invite the viewer to appreciate — even be astonished by — the curves, lines, light, and shadow that stir us up inside.
Because getting stirred up inside is what sensuality is all about. It's the rush that drowns out the nitpicking and fault-finding and says, oh yeah: that's the good stuff, right there.
Following the opening reception, the exhibit will be on display for a month at Torch Velvet Lounge.