Looking at photographers from Review LA…
I first met Charlotte Niel at an exhibition at Rayko Photo Gallery in San Francisco some years back and was happy to see her again at the reviews. Charlotte lives in Oakland, CA, still shoots film and when producing black and white images, uses the traditional dark room. She comes to photography having lived for 10 years in the south of France as a chef on a private yacht and traveling all over the globe to exotic and remote locales. Upon her return, she worked in finance for many years before dedicating herself full time to photography. While much of her photographic focus has been on social documentary, in particular looking at globalization and modernization and their impact on cultures in developed and under-developed societies, her new series, Body Options, explores aging, self perception, and ideals of beauty.
Women today are inundated with images of young, thin, perfectly proportioned representations of females who advertisers think we want to look like. Starting as early as teens, we are encouraged to indulge ourselves in expensive beauty and later anti-aging strategies. Skilled surgeons allow us to switch out, like a pair of shoes, new lips or a nose, if we do not like the ones we are wearing today. I began to notice the alarming rate with which my peers and women in general are looking to find perfection and I was curious as to how women felt about aging in a society that keeps growing older closeted. If they had the opportunity, what would they change about themselves?
Using humor and compassion, I began a project combining idealized concepts of unattainable beauty and everlasting youth, juxtaposed against reality, gravity and the passage of time. Starting with myself as model to express a point of view, the series has expanded to include other women and what they would like to change about themselves. These photographs are a combination of women letting me into a secret part of their lives and then feeling confident enough to share it with the outside world.
Feet Don’t Lie
After collaborating with each woman on what the ideal “improvement” might look like, I created from advertisements body overlays, designed to conceal or change perceived imperfections. I then fitted the “improvement” with a life-size overlay, emphasizing the fact that the change always remains separate from the true self. We spent a lot of time laughing, talking, and photographing. It was rare that in one shoot they felt comfortable enough to sit in front of the camera and not be concerned with how they looked or would be perceived. With trust came the fun and the image.
This project also reflects different options that the media presents in the quest for a “better me.” Publications, plastic surgeons, personal trainers, dermatologists, fashion and cosmetics all contribute to a huge industry devoted to solutions that can guide us on how to look and feel our best, all supported by powerful Madison Avenue, Hollywood and peers. Most recently, in a competitive job market, the desire for beauty and youth is even more compelling.
It is my belief that the more we are able to see our real selves, the more we will learn to accept those images as the norm — and not need to change a thing.
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