Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

Body Morphology Project

Laurie and Debbie say:

RW made a great comment to our recent post on The Adipositivity Project:

Women (men to a lesser extent) see (in daily life) lots of images of bodies of a certain shape and age, presented in only very selected poses. This leads lots of people (particularly women) to feel like their own body is unusual – because when they look in the mirror they see something very different.

I’ve been wondering whether there is a way to create an image bank of ordinary bodies. Something that all women (and maybe men) could use to broaden their ideas of what ‘normal’ is (or more precisely, that there isn’t a ‘normal’).

Positive images of fat bodies are great – but they don’t quite do what I’m thinking about. For instance, I know one woman who would say “that’s all very well, but at least she’s got big breasts – I have a tummy that sticks out a lot, but very small breasts”. One of the most powerful experiences that I helped this woman through was to look at a set of very simple pictures of women dressed, then undressed (not in sexual poses). What she noticed most was how different they all were, and how little relationship there was between how someone looked dressed (happy, severe, tidy, or whatever) and what their body was like (old, young, fat, thin, bumpy, etc etc).

There would be lots of ways that such a resource could work. For instance it could include pictures of whole people or just pictures of bits of body. It could show people dressed and undressed, or well lit and then under a typical bathroom light.

But what it would need to do to work properly would be to give an understanding of the whole diversity of humanity – so that people understood that what they were seeing on the site was the same as what was underneath the clothes of the people they interact with on a daily basis.

Malcom Gin’s Body Morphology Project seems to us to be reaching towards what RW is seeking, from a somewhat different perspective.

The Body Morphology Project is in very early stages: “Project parameters may change as details settle down. Watch this space.” The project is on wikimedia, and thus open to participation from anyone who wants to play, by contributing photos, by making suggestions, or by adding related projects. Gin’s plan is to have people upload a series of ten or so photos of themselves (or someone else who agrees to have them take pictures), in predetermined poses, to develop a photographic library of different kinds of bodies. The site was originally conceived as the Male Body Morphology Project, but has been expanded to include anyone who is interested in participating.

Even with so few photosets available, the predetermined poses bring out body differences to a surprising and useful degree.

This is clearly a fantastic project, and we encourage everyone to contribute their own photosets. The instructions are clear, simple, and straightforward. A body of photographs like this would be an extraordinary resource for individuals, classrooms, projects, and study.

Because it’s a work-in-progress, we’re going to point at a few things we would prefer to see done differently.

In the interests of protecting subjects’ privacy, Gin suggests that ‘many subjects may want their faces blurred or blacked out and this approach is recommended.” We completely understand the privacy issue; we just think it would work better if the photographs were simply headless than it seems to with the blurring or blacking of these first three photosets. The beige “covered face” approach in the first set has kind of a science-fictional feel to it, while the hard-edged black oval in the third set had different strong associations for each of us. Without some kind of consistency to the blurring or blacking, we don’t think this approach works very well.

More important, it tends to dehumanize the models, in a way that cutting off the heads would not. Look at the torso poses (such as this one) to see how much less distanced they seem compared to the column 1 and 2 poses. As Wendy said in the Adipositivity post comments:

“These photos are framed similarly but the human presence comes through strongly; we see the bodies only in parts but we clearly sense that the parts are owned, that there’s a private wholeness.” We feel that the “private wholeness” is obscured and minimized by the way the heads are blacked out in the full-body shots.

We’d both like to either see the project extended to show more full-body nudes, or else see a companion project for nudes. This goes back to RW’s point above about how different bodies look clothed and naked, and how little most of us understand that difference.

Finally, as the project grows (because you’re all going to add photos to it, right?), we hope that some place develops where it’s easy to see the photographs side by side: ten, or twenty, or one hundred photographs of different torsos.

Meanwhile, what a terrific start for an image library!

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4 Responses to “Body Morphology Project”

  1. RW Says:

    Yes – an interesting start.
    I want to take some time to think about what works about this and what doesn’t. This is the first time I’ve seen someone do this so I think Gin deserves some credit.
    But I think you are right in that I’d like to see more of the bodies (certainly legs for instance). And if we could see full nudity that would help. That issue can’t really be avoided as the site moves on from men anyway – unless models all appear in underwear.
    Maybe some other poses too. We need to know that when all humans sit down or lie on their backs it does certain things to their shape (even the thinnest show folds, and breasts don’t stick up like on TV)
    Also, perhaps it would be nice to see a fully clothed body first – not just in a teeshirt – so we can understand that the images that people portray (sexy, smart, etc) don’t have any relationship to what’s underneath.
    I think it is particularly brilliant that Gin has specified that ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ don’t need to fit conventional categories. That’s something most people miss completely.

  2. LAS Says:

    More important, it tends to dehumanize the models, in a way that cutting off the heads would not.

    Maybe they should try it with monster masks instead:

    http://web.mac.com/klung1/iWeb/Monster%20Cheesecake/Introduction.html

  3. Monica Says:

    The BMP would be a great, great resource for artists.

    As I said in the comments to the Adipositivity post, I have started my own photo blog inspired by Ms. Jones’s work. For privacy reasons I’m keeping them relatively “headless” for now.

    http://lavishbody.blogspot.com/

  4. RW Says:

    Another thought on this…. Are there any other existing internet resources out there that would be worth listing? Resources that are images of lots of ordinary people showing that it is ordinary not to have a body like you see on TV, film, photos etc.

    (Bearing in mind that to work well the images: need to convey a positive feeling about the person, must show them as ordinary, need to not be suggestive/sexual, should be of more than one person with varied ages, shapes etc etc)

    Some years ago I found the book ‘Naked London’ by Greg Friedler to be useful in this regard. He displays a photograph of a person clothed beside a photo of the same person naked. A few of the images from this book can be seen on his website. What’s really interesting is to see that (I think) the Naked London portfolio is useful, but many of the other images he presents aren’t. The Naked London people seem to be mostly pretty ordinary looking people – the people we pass in the street. And they are photographed in a way that brings out their humanity in a positive way. Many of his other images aren’t so helpful.

    NB: Before exploring Greg Friedler’s site you may want to know that the Naked London images aren’t of people posing in a sexually suggestive way (except perhaps one person) BUT that some of his other models are posed in much more suggestive or revealing positions. For Naked London view http://www.gregfriedler.com and look under the ‘fine art’ tab for ‘Naked London’.

    The only other set of images that Ive found have the kind of effect I’m looking for are at the Real Women Project ( http://realwomenproject.org/sculptures.shtml )

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