Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dr. Spock

While looking on-line for images of The Three Graces the other day I discovered this series of photographs by actor Leonard Nimoy. I did not know that Nimoy is a photographer - I also did not know that he is a feminist. Posted here are some of the images from Nimoy's Full Body Project, a series of black and white photographs of full bodied women. This project reminds me of an exhibit I saw at The Frick Gallery in Belfast, Maine, in 1992, called The Belly Project, a series of photographs of an array of women's midsections - scarred, bulging, taut, slack -with each woman's sexual history written beneath her photo, information such as: three pregnancies, one c-section; two abortions; hysterectomy; five pregnancies; etc. The belly photos were arranged in a grid, and created a wall that resembled landscape. It was amazingly, very beautiful.
I've often wondered (and I wonder it more often now, as my own almost fifty five year old face becomes increasingly lined with age) why we can appreciate the ripples on sand, the texture of bark on a tree, the voluptuous shape of an eggplant, and yet be horrified or repulsed by the sight of such shapes and textures on real human bodies. We are brainwashed by our media to think that the thin, young, perfect looking airbrushed model in a fashion magazine is the epitome of beauty.
So how cool is it that Leonard Nimoy, of all people, helps to break through these strict (and ridiculous) stereotypes? Nimoy's famous Star Trek character, Spock, regarded the world with a non-objective and curious eye, very little emotional reactivity (he was half human, remember!), and a dash of Vulcan humor. What better lens to look through to facilitate a paradigm shift regarding our notions of beauty!
the book:
Full Body Project: Photographs by Leonard Nimoy
From the Publisher:
In the preface to his provocative new book of nude studies, The Full Body Project, photographer and actor Leonard Nimoy writes, "The average American woman weighs twenty-five percent more than the models wearing the clothes marketed to her. There is a huge industry built up around selling women ways to get their bodies closer to a fantasy ideal. The message is 'You don't look right. But if you buy our product, you can get there.'" In The Full Body Project, Nimoy presents images of full-bodied women - many of whom are engaged in "fat liberation" and the "size acceptance" movement - and challenges dominant notions of the ideal female figure as represented in the media and fine arts. "The women in these pages are proudly wearing their own skins. They accept and respect themselves, and I hope that my images convey that feeling to others."

From the Foreword by Natalie Angier:
The women in [these] photographs seize the aesthetic and emotional reins through the time-honored primate strategy called "making direct eye contact." In most artistic renditions of the nude, the subject's gaze is indirect . . . But the women here do not avert their eyes, either from the camera or from each other. They look us straight in the face and ask that we do the same. Significantly, their gaze is not hostile or defiant. It doesn't say, what are you staring at, chum? Does my fat body repel you? Nor is it campy or vampy or in the least bit embarrassed. Instead, it is the gaze of gimlet-eyed women who know perfectly well that they are on view, and that their unclothed bodies are not the standard models of beauty as brought to you by museums, the movies, or Maybelline. Yet by fixing us in the level-headed sight, the women politely but firmly demand that we begin our inspection at eye level, where the self is exposed and makes its humanness known. We get to know these women before we begin appraising their bodies. And the paradoxical result of our face-based introduction, our feeling that we understand these women as individuals and already count them as friends, is that we see their bodies less personally, relieved of any object lessons or projections of our private pieties and fears. Rather than rejecting their bodies as unacceptably obese . . . we see them almost as abstractions, an interplay of geometries, patterns, and themes. We can see them for what they are, for what every body must be: an imperfect, magnificent evolutionary compromise between the life forms that preceded it, and the life forms yet to be.


Susan Beauchemin said...

Your right, Spock as a photographer does fit that character. Maybe the full body image isn't society's idea of beauty because of health issues that often go along with it

martha miller said...

yes, but not always! some folks are naturally big and very healthy!