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Student Feature: Grace Coudal on photography and exploring intimacy through art

Student Feature: Grace Coudal on photography and exploring intimacy through art

Illustration of Grace Coudal by Natsume Ono.

Grace Coudal has always been enamored by the dynamics of intimacy. 

A senior in the University of Michigan Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design who is minoring in LGBTQ and sexuality studies, Coudal’s education informs how she expresses herself through her art, design and activist work.

The intersection of these interests led her to conceptualize and launch her startup STAA, a company focused on sex education and empowerment through the use of art.

“STAA was born out of my passion for creating artwork about sexuality and starting using art to start conversations about intimacy, and things that are unfortunately still seen as taboos, such as sex, sexual education and LGBTQ+ topics,” she says. 

Coudal explores these themes through a variety of mediums such as writing, fashion and fiber art, but she finds that the best method of capturing intimacy is through a camera lens. 

She recently published her first photography book, Intimately South Intimately West, which is a story about a “deep curiosity for the unknown and an innate desire to live freely on the road.” The book showcases 35mm photographs she created, as well as excerpts from journal entries she wrote while on a month-long, 8,000-mile journey in a small converted Transit van with her friend and Stamps 2020 alumnus Dante Tsuzuki. 

Grace Coudal, just arriving home after an 8,000-mile journey.

“I wanted to go on this trip to try to discover something about myself, and I didn’t even know what that really was,” she said. “I just knew that I wanted to go and experience quarantine in a new setting. We weren’t really around anyone else—it was kind of just us two in the middle of like these vast landscapes.”

The experience allowed Coudal to embrace a nomadic lifestyle during the pandemic that she finds led her toward a deeper intimacy with the landscape where she traveled and with the people she met.

Breathtaking landscapes of the American Southwest are layered with photos featuring nudity in nature—like people bathing in a creek, for example—highlighting the “dynamics of intimacy and its ability to entrance.”

Physical intimacy is a common thread throughout her body photography work, as seen through Coudal’s other personal projects like Lusting Longer and Between Girls

Listen to her full interview with Christina Shepich on the U-M Arts & Culture student podcast, where she discusses her passion for art, how U-M has shaped her process, other personal projects and more.