As you might already know from my Gilded images, a lot of my photography is purely aesthetic. It’s fun to create something beautiful just for the sake of it, and focus more on that creativity than sending any particular message.
Last semester, however, I decided to do something a bit different. Inspired by my own previous attempts at concept projects, as well as concept art I had seen from others, I decided to create a series that spoke to a topic I cared about, one that would make myself, my models, and my viewers think. To do this, I completed a twenty-portrait photoseries called Behind My Back. BMB is a concept piece meant to highlight the power of our words and the insecurities they can promote in others. It’s a play on the idea of “talking behind someone’s back”.
To create the project, I gathered a group of twenty Georgetown women, my peers whom I love and admire. I asked them each to trust me with a confession – what do you worry people say about you behind your back? – and their answers shocked, saddened, and surprised me. I felt community in the fact that many girls submitted similar feelings, and also curiosity at some confessions I never would have expected. Perhaps the most intriguing thing I noticed? Originally, I assumed the majority of the confessions would be insecurities about appearance; however, most focused on more internal, personality-based aspects of self. While it does trouble me that so many incredible young women aren’t totally confident in their personalities, it pleases me that many care more about who they are as people than how they look.
In creating the portraits, I randomly assigned each girl’s confession to another girl’s body. In bearing someone else’s confession on one’s back, my goal was to make that girl think about the confession of someone else. How did it feel to know that someone right here on campus felt that insecurity? What is it like to take that and physically put it on your own back? The whole process was meant to be a contemplative time for both myself and my models, and the hope was that wearing someone else’s confession “behind their back” might make them refrain from ever gossiping in this way again, after seeing first-hand the damage it can cause one’s self esteem. I painted the confessions onto the bodies in bright pink paint, and made the rest of the photographs black and white for impact.
Now time for my own criticisms of the project, which I deem overall as a major success. Like any project, there are faults to BMB. The two big issues for me is the specificity, which, in some lights, can admittedly also be a positive. I wanted to do a project solely on women, and I am always proud to put girls in the spotlight, so creating a gender-specific project like this is a good way to do that. However, my range of models includes solely biological females, and as a result excluded anyone else who might choose to identity as women. Since my pool of models was based on volunteers, I could not help this from happening. For a similar reason, I feel the project lacks diversity - out of twenty images, only a handful are women of color, a ratio which I almost always try to prevent in my work. I don't think there is any importance in creating a project that doesn't simultaneously shed light on unity in diversity, and so acknowledging that most of my volunteers for this piece happened to be white was a bit frustrating for me to accept. However, I know it is obvious that my intentions are good - there is certainly no evidence of any intentional leaving out of non-biological women or women of color. I asked as many women as I could, and I feel honored by every single volunteer who agreed to take part, as well as the women who did not volunteer but felt affected by the content of the finished product.
While a booklet of the portraits served as my final project for my Studio Art minor, I am happy to say that the piece does not end there. Georgetown’s student-run company, The Corp, gave me an Arts Scholarship for BMB, and it is now hanging in the Uncommon Grounds coffee shop on campus for all to see. I feel lucky to be able to share the message of this piece with the Georgetown community, and I’m honored that my models trusted me to take their insecurities and make a project that became something beautiful.
View the entire series online here, and if you're on Georgetown's campus, see it displayed in Uncommon Grounds until May!