Leanne Dunic—a multidisciplinary artist, author, and musician—transgresses genres to illuminate the experience of liminal spaces. We caught up with her in Japan to learn how she captured the striking images featured in Tell Me How You Love: Dialogues on New Romance in New Climates.
AS AN ARTIST, I like subtlety, I like layers—I like misdirection and changing perspective.
I knew that Tell Me How You Love would have multiple voices, so I wanted to contribute to the range of perspectives. What could the romantic narrative be in each photo? How can climate change be in here while maintaining subtlety?
Through reflections in these photos, our realities are confused. One might think that we’re looking at one thing, but we might actually be looking at two or three or four things.
To me, that’s magical.
Producer, musician, and painter, Brian Eno, said in an interview with the BBC that when you see a landscape with a human figure in it what you’re looking at is “a human in relationship to the world that you’ve created.”
How then can I have the humans’ impact, position, context on the environment, but not in a heavy way? If you could see all of our features and our colors, it would be such an imposition on the environment.
For this assignment, I took reflections of silhouettes on different landscapes, where there would be no defining characteristics in the shape of the person in the photo.
The longer you look, the more layers you see.
I don’t edit my photos—that’s not my thing.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the idea of an aquarium—if that’s a truth or fiction. Because these are real fish living in their curated life, but is it a real representation of the ocean?
In the same way, every photograph is a curation. We don’t have the context outside of the snapshot.
The word “fiction” derives from the Latin fictiōn, “a shaping” or “molded.” In both my writing and photography, I’m definitely shaping and molding reality.
Because I choose not to edit, each photo still feels like the most natural moment I could have captured—more authentic to me than anything that has been imposed on it.
Yes, it’s a fiction in the sense that we are pretending we’re a couple and I have manipulated the shot by hiding the camera, I’m changing the aperture, I’m changing the shutter speed. But the results are manifestations of my truths and the truths of others, and in the moment of making it, it feels true even though it was composed.
I’ll let you in on a little secret.
These two people didn’t know each other, I put them together during a conference in Seattle. And they’re like, “So are you married?” There was this awkward tension: Okay, we are going to pretend that we’re a couple. Is it okay if I put my arm on you? Is it okay if you look at me?
And he had just made her laugh. I wanted the illusion that we were peeking in, so I’m actually hiding between them. Those dark parts are their bodies.”
This particular shot was the first shot I took, which speaks to the naturalness of it all—the magic that can come through.
If you look at different parts of the motorcycle, you can see different people reflected, and there’s a woman with a blue hairnet peeking around the glass from the chickens. And then you get deeper in and you see people eating. And there’s someone walking by behind you.
There’s no trickery, just simple parameters to make your mind go, what?
What I propose in my work is this idea of something called amphibious poetics—the amphibiousness of being between places. It’s a term I came up with that describes my process which thrives in various environments and contexts and transcends boundaries such as genre and style. I’ve always been attracted to amphibious creatures, and as a biracial and bisexual woman, felt aligned to amphibians in how they navigate multiple worlds.
In her essay about James Baldwin, Maria Popova wrote about love as “life-saving work,” saying: “The longer I live, the more deeply I learn that love—whether we call it friendship or family or romance—is the work of mirroring and magnifying each other’s light.”
Perhaps this project was doing just that. Through reflecting ourselves on the surrounding world we can see the imprint we have on one another, and from that, we might find compassion.
By engaging with our environment with this intention rather than narratives of despair, we can create hope and compassion, and may even incite feelings of love.
This piece was produced with generous support from Merloyd Ludington Lawrence. Special thanks to the NRDC for their generous funding of our Winter issue.
Leanne Dunic is a multidisciplinary artist and the leader of the band The Deep Cove. Her most recent work is a poetic memoir with music entitled One and Half of You. Leanne’s forthcoming book, Wet, out this spring, is about romance and the climate crisis.