20 Photographers Define “Intimacy” In Just One Image

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Courtesy of Elinor Carucci and Edwynn Houk Gallery

It is said about photography that if the image isn’t good enough, you’re not close enough—and not necessarily just in terms of physical proximity. In fact, sometimes the more explicit an image is, the more emotionally distant. That’s why only some of the 20 photographers W asked to depict what intimacy means to them in one photo ahead of Valentine’s Day feature nudity (or even physical touch). Elinor Carucci, the photographer whose close-up kiss memorably illustrated the short story “Cat Person” in the New Yorker for example, chose to capture a different kind of moment in the bedroom: one with her son, Eden, in a moment of curiosity. Not all confined themselves to relationships between persons, either: Adam Pape and Charlie Engman chose to focus on the bonds between humans and their pets. From Engman’s experience with “the public bastardization of private intimacy” to Steven Klein‘s toned-down take on his signature sensuality, take a look at the spectrum of ways that intimacy can manifest, here.

Steven Klein.

Photo courtesy of Steven Klein.


“To me, intimacy is born out of love. It’s the passionate kind, just like the color red. A moment of two becomes one.” – Leslie Zhang Jiacheng

Chad Moore

Mica and Mitch (Towel Hug), 2017. Photograph by Chad Moore.

Adam Pape

“A greeting between Melvin and his dog Samson, from Adam Pape’s first monograph, Dyckman Haze, that uses the green spaces of New York for a narrative that unfolds between day and night, wild and domestic.” – Adam Pape

Eva O’Leary

“My work is more about alienation than intimacy—the only type of intimacy might be with oneself and not the outside world or even with others. But even so, my work might be more about feeling alienation from oneself, too.* – Eva O’Leary

Andreas Laszlo Konrath

“This is my nephew Rudi; I took him out skateboarding and the graze on his hip was the result of his first slam. Documenting experiences like these are always a form of connecting or bonding with someone—intimacy and trust are therefore implicit in the image-making process.” – Andreas Laszlo Konrath

Andre Wagner

Summer Nights, New York City, 2017. Photograph by Andre Wagner.

Charlie Engman

“This is a candid image I made of my friend and her partner at the time. I posted it to Facebook, and later found that unbeknownst to me it had become a spam ad about ‘Weird Things Guys Really Do in the Bedroom’… the public bastardization of private intimacy. The weird things the internet really does to the bedroom!” – Charlie Engman

Danielle Levitt

Charlie and Kayla, Long Island City, New York, 2012. Photograph by Danielle Levitt.

Courtesy of Elinor Carucci and Edwynn Houk Gallery

“When photographing my children, they often give me, and my images, the gift of honesty, the gift of beauty, of truth. They do so just by doing what they would do anyway, being who they are, as children so often do. I love this photograph, Eden peeking, 2008. I love that in spite of my plan to photograph something completely different, Eden gave me this wonderful, spontaneous moment when he peeked into my underwear, so lovingly and comfortably. And so this photograph becomes about curiosity, closeness, playfulness. About a moment that reflects the beauty of being a child, and the beauty of being a parent, the intimacy and love in mother-child relations. The beauty of letting your children know they can explore, they can ask questions, they can dare to see who you are, and to find out how an adult body looks like—in this specific photograph, the body of a mother, the body we all come from. We will forever be connected to our mother’s body, and keeping this connection is a great thing. Knowing and accepting this body, I believe, is a healthy part of our childhood and adulthood, helping us also to accept who we are, our bodies, our moments of embarrassments, and our flaws. And being comfortable and open with who we are when we are together, the family, is where it starts. This is love, this is family love, the greatest love of all. – Elinor Carucci, Eden Peeking*, 2008.

Ysa Pérez

Chiki in Brooklyn, September 2017. Photograph by Ysa Pérez.

Mara Corsino

Dave. Brooklyn, 2019. Photograph by Mara Corsino.

Rose Marie Cromwell

“This is a portrait of my husband, Roman, in Sicily. I love photographing him—it allows me to see him a new light every time. I took this image a few days after we got married, in 2016.” – Rose Marie Cromwell

Charlie Engman

“This is my mother with our late dog, Lucinda. After Lucinda passed, my mother said she walked her coffee cup around the block in the mornings to fill the void, such was the intimacy of their mutual care-taking.” – Charlie Engman

Danielle Levitt

Colby and William, Brooklyn, New York, 2017. Photograph by Danielle Levitt.

Ahndraya Parlato

“We tend to think of intimacy as good or sweet things, but in reality, intimacy with someone also means allowing them to see you at your worst and most vulnerable.” – Ahndraya Parlato

Romain Duquesne

“This moment was an outtake, one devoid of humor unlike the images Suzi and I usually create together. Although more somber/softer than usual, it’s become one of my favorite images we’ve worked on.” – Romain Duquesne

Courtesy of Elinor Carucci and Edwynn Houk Gallery

“This image is a part of my series MOTHER (book published by Prestel, 2013), a decade-long body of work in which I documented the highs and lows, the layers and complexities of being a parent. I do believe that mother’s love is the greatest, most intense love, and in it is also the foundations for what later will be our romantic love, our relationship with our partners, and later our children. Love, 2011, is one of the images I love most from all the pictures I ever took; a moment so true, intense and deeply intimate. A photograph about love, and pain, compassion and forgiveness, a photograph about the need to be loved and protected in our darkest or saddest moments, to be loved, as we are. To be loved when we are hurting and vulnerable, unconditionally, the kind of love we will keep on seeking for the rest of our lives, even long after our mothers are gone.” – Elinor Carucci, About Love, 2011.

Sophie Green

“Whilst I was traveling in India, I noticed the way male friends would be openly affectionate towards each other in public, often holding hands and hugging. This image capturing a pair of hands uniting between two businessmen in Delhi city feels so intimate—amongst the hustle and bustle of the city they stroll down the street in procession, hands clasped as if to assertively and tenderly display their friendship towards each other.” – Sophie Green

Gilleam Trapenberg

Couple on the beach in Canouan, 2016. Photograph by Gilleam Trapenberg.

Olivia Malone

“This photograph, Warmth, is from a new series exploring the tonal abstraction of the female body.” – Olivia Malone

Mark Sommerfeld

“My mother and sister prepare to help my grandfather out of bed on Thanksgiving Day. My mother is a vision of overflowing, innate intimacy.” – Mark Sommerfeld

Caroline Tompkins

“I took this photo early into a relationship, during the time when you push and pull trust. Our relationship, like a small house built on stilts—I think he wanted to be the exhibitionist and I wanted to be the voyeur. What’s more intimate than freedom?” – Caroline Tompkins