I remember loving art as a child and throughout my school years. I never felt, however, that it was the subject of serious pursuit. As an adult, I allowed myself to “dabble” in it during my spare time while raising my children. But “dabbling” didn’t seem to be enough. I began to think more seriously about studying art and decided to formally pursue this interest. I went back to college to take art classes and was hooked (I was the old person in the front of the room that I remember from my college days). I attended the required undergraduate classes that allowed me to work towards a graduate degree and then received my Master of Fine Arts in 2001. My graduate work was mostly in painting and drawing, but I never could quite separate myself from the camera, and so my art work eventually turned (or returned, I should say) to photography.
While working on my degree, as I was trying to see what direction I would take in my work, the answer became clear after an ordinary, common place experience. I had gone to do what I thought would be simple - find a magazine that would help me relax while I took a break from work. I realized that, instead, I felt obligated to evaluate every part of my body, my hair color and cut, determine whether my accessories were “in” and whether I knew what the new color choices were essential for the season. Instead of drifting into that place where we don’t have to think about anything serious or pressing, I became concerned as I was bombarded with instructions and requirements for being beautiful and felt the panic setting in.
Having grown up during the rise of feminism, I could not believe that we had not come farther than this. My political and feminist roots were reawakened (I already had an advanced degree in Political Science) and so my art and politics found an outlet. My work became the beginning of an ongoing study, entitled “Visions of Beauty.” In it, my photographs capture real women of all ages as they make their way through the contemporary beauty culture. I was disturbed by the publicity surrounding all of the plastic surgery that was being advertised and the resulting horror stories popping up on the news. It is a fact of life that women spend a great deal of time attempting to alter or recreate their identities, crossing over at times into obsession. I became interested in the “instructions” and the pressures, the standards and expectations, focusing on how women respond to them. I should say that as I began to investigate these issues I knew that I did not want to be the “angry” feminist, critical of other women, those who seemingly have devoted too much of their time, money and sense of selves to follow the beauty prescriptions. Rather, I have chosen to take a more positive and supportive role, knowing that the beauty culture gets all of us at times in our lives. I wanted to show the reality, the humor, and the ridiculousness of what we do in the name of beauty through my art. I hoped that awareness would lead to recognition, compassion and sound choices for women, and the realization that the right answers may be different for different women.
In “Visions of Beauty” the photographs are not manipulated or staged. I document women of all ages, caught in what is usually a private activity and who have changed their appearance from temporary and minor adjustments to more radical plastic surgery. This reveals the processes and the tools that are part of these efforts, as well as the “essentials” that every woman wants and needs. Additionally, the photographs are in color and generally large-scale to force the viewer to really confront the images. It isolates the little parts of life and lets us see things that we normally might miss. The photographs capture a moment in time and the reality of the experience for these women. In this way, the emphasis is no longer on the final product and we truly see what women do in the name of “beauty.”