The enhanced human beauty the photographic image conveys inspires widespread feelings of inadequacy. In the unpublished text Touch and Go Photography (n.d.), Marshall McLuhan noted that “the skin-you-love-to-touch” has undergone a great change as a result of photography. He went on to describe how with the photo came “self-consumption” and “collective social trauma”. While McLuhan’s aphoristic pronouncements can be interpreted in a number of different ways, it seems clear that these ideas carry unnerving relevance to the work in this exhibition.
Selections from Zed Nelson’s documentary series Love Me (2004 – 09) look at the multi-billion dollar beauty industry, suggesting that self-consumption begins with modification of the body towards a standardized ideal. As Nelson notes, the “worldwide pursuit of body improvement has become like a new religion.” Lauren Greenfield’s ongoing work kids + consumerism (2004 –), presents an extended portrait of children who have only ever known an image-saturated world. Self-consumption for them is a matter of buying their way to a happiness defined by appearance and material goods. Photography, however, also has the power to counter the distortions in self-perception that the image industry creates. For her series Real Beauty (2007 – 08), Jodi Bieber worked with South African women to present images of beauty as it exists in real life. Collaborating with her subjects, Bieber photographed them at home in their underwear presenting themselves as empowered and comfortable in their own skin.
Bieber, Greenfield and Nelson are represented by Institute Artist Management, Los Angeles and London.