Nature. Shrouded. Beauty.
Pushing back against the idea of women being shown nude in artwork, Oklahoma State University student Rachele Cromer says there’s more to beauty than the naked female form.
That’s why she shrouds her photography subjects in such fabrics as white bedsheets, black velvet and smooth satin.
The 23-year-old Oklahoma State University senior believes their beauty still shines through.
“This particular series came from me looking at European paintings and seeing how women had been portrayed throughout history,” Cromer said. “I wanted to contradict that in a way. I cover my models with a sheet so you can’t really see the person but you’re still seeing their form. It is kind of me looking more at the body as a sculpture.”
The studio art (photography) and graphic design major from Edmond has a keen eye for finding natural landscapes where she shoots the portraits.
“I prefer overcast days because the lighting is better, and I can get the effect I’m going for,” Cromer said. “I’m really interested in water right now and finding rivers or lakes I can shoot in or near.”
A favorite shot
She started out taking portraits of herself but quickly began recruiting friends and family.
Her favorite photo is of friend and fellow studio art (photography) senior Megan Crow, 21, of Perry, Oklahoma, standing in a creek a few miles off campus near Couch Park.
In the photo, Crow is draped in a white bedsheet, shot from behind, dirty water flowing by. The full-body, high-contrast photo has a pure black background, making it somewhat difficult to tell she is standing in water.
But Crow sure remembers. She stood there for about 45 minutes.
“It was muddy, cold and uncomfortable,” Crow said. “It is kind of hard to focus on posture and not getting distracted when your pants are wet. But it is very interesting to see how the photographs turn out. The final pictures surprise me.”
Hands figure prominently in Cromer’s work as well.
“I think that hands can tell a story, too,” Cromer said. “It gives a bit of an identity, but it doesn’t give you the whole person.”
Wrapped in black velvet, Cromer shot a self-portrait along the banks of Lake McMurtry, with only her right arm and hand uncovered.
Another frame Cromer made shows a friend obscuring her face with her hands in front of Arcadia Lake in the background.
Cromer hopes her images make people pause and reflect.
“I hope viewers look at my work and think about how women have been traditionally portrayed,” Cromer said. “You can still see beauty and form without having to see everything.”
Her work has been displayed throughout Oklahoma and as part of a national exhibition at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center in Denver.
"I hope viewers look at my work and think about how women have been traditionally portrayed. You can still see beauty and form without having to see everything."
She has drawn inspiration from photographer Patty Carroll, who camouflaged female subjects in drapery and more for her “Anonymous Women” project.
Cromer’s photography professor introduced Carroll’s work to her.
“A lot of my professors at OSU have really had an impact on me,” Cromer said. “In particular, Andy Mattern, my photography teacher, Angie Piehl, my drawing teacher, and Ting Wang, one of my graphic design professors, have helped me grow not only as an artist and designer but also as a person.”
Mattern — an assistant professor of photography and digital media who helped launch the art department’s photography program in 2015 — said Cromer will be the first to graduate with a studio art BFA emphasizing photography when she graduates in May.
“There is a quiet drama to Rachele’s images, although they often include only a single figure,” Mattern said. “Gesture, costume and space play big roles in her images. Rachele plays the role of conductor and often performer as well, generating her own evocative scenes that refer obliquely to notions of femininity, mystery, and the history of art.”
Angela Piehl, associate professor of painting, drawing and digital art, has enjoyed working with Cromer.
“The images she is producing are visually arresting and provoke a range of psychological responses for the viewer,” Piehl said. “Her dramatic lighting choices offer tone and additional context, and it is hard as a viewer to not project meaning into what is often left ambiguous or mysterious in her compositional choices.”