Photographs: Reality or Illusion?

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“BELIAL”: from the Hebrew meaning ‘fallen angel’ and without + usefulness

“In one half of the project, I have photographed myself, changing my role from photographer to subject. I was no longer in a comfortable position behind the camera observing others but was now the subject of my investigation. This has felt like putting myself into a certain relationship with the world that feels like taking some control, even though I do find it uncomfortable.

Sontag* talks about the fact that with the invention of the camera the public have come to accept photographs as vivid witnesses to ‘reality’ and how photographs transform, make the image beautiful, terrible, unbearable – as it is not in real life. Are they thus an illusion? Photographs are evidence not only of what’s out there but of what an individual sees, not just as a record but an evaluation of the world (2003:76).

Growing up, we learn to think of our bodies mainly in terms of how we look (men and women), which is enforced by the media around us, for example, photographs, films, TV, magazines and billboards. These photographs objectify, turn an event or person into something that can be possessed, something viewed as a transparent account of reality.

Yet all these images fail to reflect the tremendous diversity among us. Profitable businesses are set up to convince us that we don’t look good enough and to play on our insecurities and fears of imperfection. The media define ‘looking good’ so narrowly that few of us ever feel that we have made it. Women who do not ‘fit’ the image experience negative judgments, which in subtle ways make it hard for nearly every woman in our society to love and accept herself as she is.

When I was a matric pupil (1979), I was ‘plucked’ from the street by Gavin Sorger, a make-up artist, who worked with fashion photographer Gavin Furlonger at the time. Sorger prepared my hair and made me up ready for a photographic shoot. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking that I looked like a clown. This was the beginning of a three-year relationship with the advertising media world. Practically, it was a job and was separate from the rest of my life. It paid for my university, my flat and my first Beetle – it gave me independence. However, it had at that time and until more recently subtle ramifications in my life…”

*Read more about Susan Sontag’s Illness As Metaphor here!

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