Infused with the ominous glow of contrast, Ana Maria Hernandez’s photographs of the female body—often presented as prone and exposed—are at once glamorous and darkly erotic. The New York-based creative uses her lens as a tool for sexual liberation and empowerment among the subjects that she works with.
Ana was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she recalls partying and submerging herself within the city’s culture as a youth. “It’s kind of like my innocence was sort of taken from me at a very young age. I think that sort of propelled me to be independent enough to even move,” Hernandez shares. After graduating high school, she moved to San Francisco in pursuit of her passion, which was photography—something that had played a pivotal role in her life many years prior. The photographer reminisces of taking pictures on an iPhone before turning to YouTube, which eventually led her down the path of creating and editing videos for hours whilst in high school.
“Living in New Mexico, me and my friends were always so mistreated so I feel like I just always had a desire to give a voice to women. My photography, it’s changed a lot in ways. Before, my mission was about body positivity and taking all different women, sizes, and colors, and all that is still very important to me,” Ana explains. “I think contrast, sex, and rage are the three words that I would probably use to describe my work right now. I’m 23 years old, feeling very just liberated as a woman myself. Right now, I think it’s extremely relevant to the times, even with the politics that we’re going through. It just feels powerful to me to have these women depicted in these ways.”
Currently, Hernandez is working on her next series of photos aptly titled Bad Bitch Baptism, which encompasses several women immersing themselves in water whilst naked. The dreamy collection of images invites us on a journey through a constellation of ephemeral, sensual, sun-lit moments, embroidered together in a loosely chronological sequence.
“While I’m shooting with other people, in their heads a lot of the time they just think that photography and art are made for only for Instagram. So I’ll have people say, during a shoot, ‘let’s hide my nipples so that we can post them’ and to me, it’s not about that. The eroticism comes from the body and so if people weren’t concerned about how they have to hide their bodies.” She adds, “I think the work could go even further. That’s something that I have to push myself and the models on. We both challenge each other to look past that and just make art that can stand without anything else.”
Below, we talk to Ana Maria Hernandez about exploring sexual liberation and rage within her work, how it felt to revisit her subtle archive of photographs, and navigating erotic imagery.
“I have a print of this one in my living room. It’s blown up, it looks really big, and I just feel like there’s so much emotion in this. This photo speaks rage to me. I don’t know, it’s something. I think what I love about this photo is that this was when I first moved to New York, and I didn’t even necessarily know that I wanted to create work like this. Once I did, it was just an amazing sensation to see that I wasn’t just making these cute little portraits of people. It just became something more than that, and I wanted to see it big. Now I want to see all my photos big so I feel like that was only right.”
“Valley Latini” (2021)
I’m surprised that this is sort of one that I was drawn to just because it really is just a portrait. I think it shows something I’ve been trying to sort of rein in on, you know? It’s very popular to do lots of editing and make photos into more graphic designs or manipulate photos, and that was something that I thought I needed to be doing. But I’m just always trying to go back to the basics of having a strong photo, good composition, and let the rest sort of speak for itself. So I think that’s why I see this photo and so much in her expression.
We planned and I helped stylize, and it just out so well. We wanted to do just something really dark, and it’s so bright, but it’s still so dark. There’s so much emotion in her eyes. That is actually Valley Latini. She’s a musician, and she’s become a really good friend of mine. We met because I did a music video for her and that was such an amazing experience. I’m like, ‘it doesn’t have to be so complicated all the time to make something cool.’ That’s definitely one of my muses because she’s just given me her trust. Therefore, I’ve done album covers for her now and single covers. I do a lot with her. So that’s a very beautiful friendship that really did come from photography.”
“LA Summer” (2021)
“This was in LA, and I really love the work that I make in LA. I just feel so inspired there, it’s just so colorful and bright kind of how my photography is. Sometimes, you’re just shooting and you just take one photo where you’re like, ‘wow, how did this even happen?’ There were so many others from this shoot, but it was just this one that was so perfectly lit up. The photos that I keep getting drawn to are the ones that turned out so well. They just fit in my mind. That’s what I came for when I came to that shoot: to take a photo that I feel that way about.
I think that I imagined this photo being really big as well. This is a photo that I would love to see blown up just so you can really see her eyes. It’s just so perfect to be just for Instagram. I had just found her when we took those. I just find girls and I don’t care about anything else other than shooting with them. I like a lot of models that look like dolls, and I think she does.”
“Look Up” (2022)
“So this was another one of those photos that when I took it, I knew that this is what I envisioned. I had this idea of her praying, and it goes back to the sort of contrast where I’m almost contradicting in a way. Within religion, it’s not necessarily inviting for women to be sexually liberated or whatever. I like the juxtaposition of that. It’s this really beautiful girl and she has her titties out and she’s still doing the same thing that everyone else does. She’s praying, she’s looking up. Some of my favorite work is really in LA.”
“wet Summer” (2022)
“Again, this is one of those moments where I just saw this, and I was thinking, ‘This is who I want to be as an artist. ‘These are the type of photos that I want to be taking.’ I was reminded of Sports Illustrated. This could be them if they hired cool photographers. It was just one of those moments, and there are so many more from this exact shoot. When I took this picture, it was perfectly exposed and the sky was super contrasted. This is the direction that I want to continue to go in. She’s a friend of mine now as well.
This was right on my roof. There’s another photo of her with the church behind her and she’s pouring water on herself. That’s the church I live right in front of and I’m doing a series now. I’m really hoping to have a show in the winter of girls like baptizing themselves on the roof. I’ll call it Bad Bitch Baptism. So I’ve already shot a couple of other girls doing the same thing. I just have a vision of just having them really blown up, having ten different photos shown in a gallery with this. So that’s the beginning of the project that I’m working on.”
Elsewhere in photography, Chino Angles walks us through some of his favorite editorial photoshoots over the recent years.