BODY IMAGE FROM WITHIN
Laurie Toby Edison
|Photography is about seeing and being seen. In the contemporary age, we take the
pictures we see at least as seriously as we take the living evidence of our own eyes;
therefore, which pictures get shown, and where, has an enormous effect on how we
see the world. Who is seen and who is invisible? Who has the right to see, and who
has the right to be seen? And finally, what is beauty and who defines it?
Pictures of bodies, most particularly women's bodies, are constantly seen everywhere in the popular culture. However, the bodies portrayed represent only a very tiny percentage of the real bodies which inhabit the world. In this way, the media deny the reality of most real bodies, while the importance and value of the ones they choose to showcase gets artificially inflated. The media constrain the definition of beauty by showing us a small cross-section, labeling it beautiful, and making everything else invisible. Many would claim that the culture does not have the power to deny the option to see, it can only deny the opportunity. I disagree, because I believe that what you are forced to see every day constrains how you look at the rest of what you see. Often, it also constrains what is available for you to look at.
As a result, people with bodies that do not resemble the ones which are constantly displayed come to doubt their own importance, if not their own place in the society, and usually their own claim on any kind of beauty. Thus, effectively used, the perceived reality of photography has a disturbingly powerful effect on how people see, even something as basic as how we see ourselves. A photographer has the opportunity to make the invisible visible, to reveal things (including new ways of perceiving beauty) which the culture denies people the option to see.
A nude is not just a "skin" picture. The photographer is working with the body's underlying musculature and configuration. And of course, as with all photography, the first thing being photographed is the light -- the play of light and darkness, reflections across the human figure, light's entrance into the frame, the way light reflects, illuminates, or disguises articles in the background, the way light shapes the face.
A nude portrait is a photograph of a person, where the body as well as the face conveys an essential sense of self. Most of us (Japanese, Americans, or around the globe) tend to separate the face from the body, forgetting that our faces are a part of our bodies.
A suite of nude portraits with coordinated text provides a depth of experience for the viewer which allows each individual to draw upon the aspects of the art to reach personal conclusions which are not predetermined either by the culture or by the separate elements of the work.
A spectrum of nude portraits allows the viewer to ask: Who has the right to define visibility, let alone beauty? It is only because we have been so overwhelmed by the dominance of the popular culture_s gaze that we have accepted the primacy of any gaze other than our own. Photography like mine is not designed to replace your existing definition of beauty with mine. Instead, it is designed to help open up what you see so that you can create your own personal definitions of beauty, and power, and other messages carried in the body.
A body image that is entirely interior and personal is deeply radical. "I am beautiful and powerful because I choose to see and present myself as beautiful and powerful; your opinion is not at issue." In this context of the individual gaze, body image becomes more intricate and powerful. Body image can (and perhaps appropriately should) be defined by including how we feel as well as how we look: sensation, tactility, health and well-being, all play a significant part in an autonomous body image. In my experience, this attitude goes against the prevailing American, Japanese, and other global cultural expectations. Shifting the central concept of "body image" from who has the right to see and be seen, to who feels good and presents themselves as looking as good as they feel, is as radical an act as can be conceived of at the beginning of the 2000s.
If we imagine a body image that is individual and not determined by others, that relies on difference rather than sameness, and that is felt as well as seen, the entire universe shifts. In the new universe that my work envisions, everyone has the right to determine their own level of visibility and only their own, no one else's.