For someone who considers photo modeling a hobby rather than a career, Tanya Dakin has had a hell of a run these past several years. Traveling all over the world to work with some of the most esteemed fashion, erotica and fetish photographers around, she’s become known for her compelling look and commanding presence. She’s appeared on Suicide Girls, where she was one of the site’s most popular models, and numerous magazines and books, including ones from art publishing giant Taschen.
Now 40, Dakin, who moved from Boston to Philadelphia 20 years ago, is also a talented and emerging photographer. Her self-portraits—sometimes colorful and racy, other times subdued and haunted—depict myriad personas and explore gender roles. And her work with both male and female models is sensual, audacious and arresting; often, she channels iconic photographer Helmut Newton in crafting scenes that feel like movie stills.
Dakin’s getting ready to give up modeling as she transitions to full-time photographer. But not before she completes one last, bold project.
“I’m working on a photo book all about my vagina,” she laughs.
The lithe, short-haired Dakin says that until recently, despite frequently exploring sexual themes and taboos, she has maintained a strict “no pink” policy. But that had more to do with personal hang-ups than worries of exploitation or blurring the line between art and pornography.
“I wasn’t comfortable seeing a certain view of my body,” she says. “I was embarrassed. I couldn’t stop comparing my parts to other women’s parts. And women have enough strain on them as it is with body types and our breasts and arms and legs, and now that they have vaginal plastic surgery, you have to feel like you need the perfect vagina? It’s absurd that we have that weight on us to that degree.”
“I realized that to be a nude model and have certain parts that you’re almost ashamed of, it felt like a hurdle that needed to be overcome,” Dakin continues. “I started doing this [book] out of a general sense of female empowerment, but it’s really a personal way for me to accept all of myself and take control, and use my creativity and resources in order to do that.”
For Dakin, control has always been paramount. As a teenager inspired by the chameleon-like Madonna and Cher, she gravitated toward self-portraits because, she says, “what subject can you have the most control over but yourself?” Dakin experimented with style, makeup, lighting and setting “to see if I could build an entire image all by myself and make it believable.”
When she eventually began modeling for other photographers, she sought out people whose style matched up with her particular vision and she acted as producer/director—styling herself and dictating every aspect of the shoot. “All they had to do was show up with the camera,” she says, noting that even the most accomplished photographers have been willing to step back and let her run the show. “I can’t do it without them, and they know that. They can make my visions come to life more easily than I can.”
She’s tapped some of those trusted photographers to work on her as-yet-untitled vagina book, which will also include self-portraits, and which she hopes to have published by the end of the year. One photo, the self-shot “Victor/Victoria,” is a striking sepia-toned close-up of Dakin’s vagina with a faux curly handlebar mustache in place of pubic hair. In part, she says, it’s a commentary on fluctuating pubic hair trends—from bushy to shaved—that are typically governed by what men, not women, prefer. “And it’s also a pretty hilarious shot,” she says.
Dakin knows that her book will probably stir controversy, but she’s not concerned. “I’m trying to provoke thought. I’m aware that not everybody is OK with vaginas, but it’s my vagina and I’m free to do with it what I want.”
Walking the tenuous line between scripted theater and improvisation, the Groundswell Players have been concocting fresh lunacies and playing finely drawn misfits since 2005 when they were members of an undergraduate improv group at Haverford.
Founded by Israeli choreographer Ronen (affectionately known as Roni) Koresh in 1991, the company is celebrating its 20th year of performance. Koresh has carved out a niche for the company in the larger dance world for its fusion of dance styles: jazz, modern and ballet.
There’s no question she has her husband’s back, but it’s evident the first lady also has her own game plan. “I came into the role with an agenda, which is with youth development,” she says. “If anything my role has given me a platform because people want to listen more than they did before. I didn’t have any expectations. What I did have is a sense of things I wanted to accomplish.”
When it’s all said and done, Ian Morrison can look back and know he entertained millions, lived the high life, raked in the cash, hobnobbed with celebrities and even once had Ed Rendell’s hands all over his ass. “But I’m not done yet!” Morrison laughs on a recent afternoon, cocktail in hand, while sitting at a table at the back of Uncle’s, a bar in the heart of the Gayborhood.
PW's Summer Guide 2015