19 May Leaving Marks: The Hard Part (just words, safe for work)
So now we’re at the hard part. Where the women who are a part of the project admit the truth.
They can all see it in everyone else’s photos- they are beautiful, powerful and empowering. But then their own photos- they see the “flaws.” The stretch marks and the weight they can’t lose. The harsh words people have left carelessly branded onto their vulnerable skin. They see that some of them are heavier than others, or more scarred.
It’s a real conundrum for me, because I can take photos of every one of these women that are gorgeous in an easy way. Gorgeous in a way that they will be able to see. It’s my job and I do it every day. Not doing that for this project is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I am used to showing unexpected beauty, not unexpected pain.
So as I always do when I am confronted by something that hurts me, I find myself writing. I can’t change the journey for anyone else, but here’s mine.
I have begun to see my body in two different ways. On the one hand, it is sensual, powerful, beautiful. That’s a part of me I have nurtured and I believe it deep and truly. I have mindfully chosen this way of seeing myself and I can see how powerfully that belief in myself affects the world and its perception of me. More on this later.
On the other hand, though, I see that my body is functional, flawed, a bit saggy and nothing much special- but thanks to this project none of those are negatives anymore. I’m not special because I don’t need to be. I don’t have to be more or better or different. I can just be woman. I am enough.
I have spent a lot of time over the last couple of months naked with groups of women of every shape and size. It has changed the way I see nudity in some important fundamental way that I am still trying to put my finger on. The best I can do is to say that it has removed any value judgement or sense of comparison- I’m not seeing us as big or small, fat or thin. Just women. Just bodies. It’s like that moment when you are learning to draw and suddenly the thing you are drawing is only a collection of lines rather than an object entire, or in martial arts when in a flash you can see the shape of the fight instead of a set of individually learned movements. I am nothing special because we all are. Because there is beauty in every one of us. Because we are so much more the same than different. As an artist, I’m equally, and utterly, excited by every shadow and curve
What that means to me professionally is that there is exactly as much feminine power and potential in each of my subjects. The question is only how to unlock it. What am I trying to show? Is it strength or sorrow? Is it sensuality or compassion? And can I unlock enough trust in my subject to let those things shine through?
The problem is that this project doesn’t let me say how much I have fallen in love with every woman in it. How I am profoundly moved by the beautiful lines and curves and angles and, yes, folds. It has made me want to revive an older, or a less Western, style of sensual photography that embraces ampleness without trying to confine it to the shape popular media wants it to be. It has made me want to create a set of abstract art nude landscapes that show how profoundly our sameness outweighs our differences. It has made me want to begin a series showing that angles can be as compelling as curves.
I’m rambling here, and there is no tidy conclusion. But I want you all to know that you are beautiful to me. Deeply, incredibly beautiful. And I hope someday soon you can take that belief inside and make it yours.
(Back to photos tomorrow)