The idea for this photo project spawned while I was in search of a way to derive more value from my photography. I explained my dilemma to a dear friend, and she suggested I print my photos – which then snowballed into the idea of producing a book. But since the ubiquity of the digital camera and the rise of social media, it has never been easier to circumvent the process of actually printing photos in order to share them with an audience. Purists will argue there are certainly more reasons to print photographs, but this has often been my reason against doing it. Despite this fact, there have been a few occasions when I have actually printed photos and I enjoyed the results in a way that made me want to do it more often.
Preventing me from getting started right away on this idea was my own photo library. Within it are thousands of images from which to choose, but none with any common theme tying them together. In my mind, printing a collection of my existing images would have simply resulted in a gallery of my work and that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted a project with more purpose, so I began brainstorming ideas for a theme.
I gave some thought to the photo shoots I had conducted regularly up to that point. The subjects in my photographs are usually women, and long ago I noticed a trend: many of them would volunteer criticisms of their bodies – often while actually taking photos, but sometimes even before meeting – almost like a disclaimer. It was usually mentioned very casually through natural conversation, but it was always something to which I paid special attention. As my portfolio grew to include more women, another trend became evident: some women were beginning to express genuine surprise in my choice to contact them because they did not feel pretty enough to join the ranks of those already included.
Reflecting on those moments is when my idea started to take shape. One could argue there are many reasons why women would respond this way, but to think they may have believed they were physically inferior is what stuck with me. The women to whom they were comparing in my portfolio were no different from themselves. Further reinforcing this point was the fact these women would eventually agree to participate, go on to appear in my portfolio, and become part of the very group to which subsequent prospects would compare.
The longer I thought about the topic, the more I realised these women couldn’t be blamed for feeling this way. If you ponder the subject for any amount of time, it doesn’t take long before you recognise the tremendous amount of pressure our society puts on women to meet a certain criteria in order to be considered physically attractive. I suspect this is part of what makes it very easy for women to identify flaws in themselves. I wish, instead, we lived in a world where these women would consider their “flaws” as features to be celebrated. After all, each person’s collection of attributes are the things that make them who they are, for there is only one of them. Usually something with such scarcity in our society would be considered extremely valuable, but we often don't apply this logic to ourselves. If they were praised by others for being included in my portfolio the same way they initially praised those included before them, then why was it so difficult for them to accept themselves as at least equal?
It was loosely on this premise I decided I was going to base my project. I wanted the photos to reflect a group of women who had explicitly decided – at least for the duration of the photo shoot – to shove aside their insecurities and be accepting of their bodies.
To bring focus to this idea, I felt it was important to avoid any retouching. Items I would typically remove include any obvious blemishes on the skin, any strands of hair that had fallen loose, and any visible debris or dirt on the ground. However, I left it all in there in an attempt to remain true to the idea of acceptance, so only lighting has been adjusted in each of the images. With the bodies being a main focus, I chose to reduce distractions around them by eliminating colour and producing the images in black and white; keeping props to a minimum; shooting in a studio setting against a solid, white backdrop; and having the clothing be simple, and sometimes removed altogether.
Once I had each of the participants confirmed, I set out to interview each of them to learn more about the insecurities they have towards their bodies. It was through this action I hoped to turn this from a simple gallery of photos to a project with purpose, presenting the information I gathered from the interviews alongside the images from each person’s set.
And that’s exactly what I did. I ended up shooting everybody in the same day, which was certainly challenging but it at least created an environment where everyone could meet each other. I’m happy to report many of the connections established between the participants that day remain in tact in some capacity. With over 4000 photos taken over the span of roughly eight hours (I like to overshoot), I had the foundation for this project.
I'll shut up now.