In her first published work, the New York-based photographer renders magic from memories, finding permanence in passing moments of affection

In the introduction to Robert Mapplethorpe’s Some Women, Joan Didion wrote, “The attempt to analyse one’s own work, which is to say to know one’s subject, is seen as destructive. Superstition prevails, fear that the fragile unfinished something will shatter, vanish, revert to the nothing from which it was made.” The rejection of well-defined process in favor of instinct is central to the work of photographer Sam Penn. To dissect it would be to risk losing the magic with which it was made.

When one of Penn’s subjects, Hari Nef, was flipping through a proof of the photographer’s zine, she said, “Oh, this is about women.” Mapplethorpe’s book came to mind. So, at the suggestion of a friend (the artist Nash Glynn), she dubbed it Some Girls. But Penn’s girls are presented without the artifice of lighting and sets and stages that Mapplethorpe favored, opting instead for the encounters that emerge naturally. The subjects of Some Girls run through sand, soak in tubs, coil into sheets, balance steering wheels with cigarettes. Their beauty is organic. “These more candid moments feel like proof that these things actually happened—they anchor my experience.”

Taking a picture, for Penn, is an act of intimacy. Every image the photographer makes is built from adoration—an ode to a friend, a lover, sometimes even (maybe more reluctantly) herself. Though—in their most technical sense—Penn’s pictures trend toward portraiture, they’re really of relationships. It only makes sense that her first published work, released via New York Life Gallery, is dominated by the women who comprise her personal life. She says of her subjects, “They’re able to have a kind of openness that is almost permission to photograph and make an image together.”

The release of Some Girls will be celebrated at New York Life Gallery on June 28.