Body - NOMINEE: Manon Ouimet
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My project proposal for the Photogrvphy Grant is Altered Identities. It aims to challenge our assumptions on beauty and what it means to be whole, to be human. I am focusing my attention on a community of people who have unwillingly embarked on life-changing body alterations due to illness, war, accidents and violence. My project aims to help individuals regain confidence and reclaim their identity. Its other intention is to illuminate people who are often publicly cast into the shadows, furthering the topical conversation of diversity. What I am submitting is only the beginning; the seeds of an idea I hope to grow and watch flourish.
The human form has been of great interest to me for many years. I am fascinated by this common tool we all have, our similarities and differences. I’m also interested in the sociological influence on self-esteem and people’s ability to ostracise others based purely on the way they look. I struggle with people’s prejudices when simply, we are all human.
Thus far I have had the pleasure of photographing a diverse group of amputees intermixed with ‘able’ bodies that are captured in the way I see the human form; varied, but ever-beautiful. A quest to present differences as indifferent.
The incentive behind this exploration came from a place of frustration towards the advertising, fashion and beauty industries for their often shallow and fictional presentation and their ability to transform consumer’s insecurities into financial gain. Through my research I grasped a better understanding of our society and its functioning: normality formed by dogmatism, the fuelling of idolatry, the dialogue of media and social media between communities and consumers, all of which is crudely stitched together by the powers that be: media moguls and governments in bed together. Nor does the internet provide the democracy we believe it does. Nothing is as it seems. Celebrities endorsed by campaign advertorials fill our daily media intake and present unrealistic ideals of perfection, setting a false idea of normalisation, a perfection that is not attainable by being one’s self.
Having spent a few years in the fashion industry I found myself lost because I wasn’t producing work that seemed to matter. Worse still, work that was destructive. I was no longer connecting to individuals the way the camera once allowed me to when I fell in love with this medium. I found the need to reconnect. Through the germination of this project it has become evident that the camera and the process of creating images has therapeutic values. A ‘therapeutic gaze’ using photography as a medium to better help people redefine identity, grow positive attitudes towards their appearances, themselves and a visual voice to say ‘I am here’. It is a series showing the individuals as human, complete in their incompleteness that the viewer can sympathise with and be compassionate, not pitying.
Diane Arbus once said "I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them." This has been a mantra to guide and remind me why I am focusing on Altered Identities. That is not to say that amputees go unseen, but rather, they don't get "seen" in the metaphorical sense that Arbus is referring to; a celebration and reminder of what it is to be individual. My work differs aesthetically to that of Diane Arbus but in its message, it shares values. Both communicate with communities of people who sit on the fringes of society, capturing their essence, individualism and presenting them to the wider public as indifferent. They present misrepresented figures who deserve the opportunity to reclaim their identity.
My approach aesthetically is what I would consider to be neoclassical. Classical sculpture has influenced the way in which I have seen and explored form. It has influenced my decision to keep a uniform simplicity throughout each shoot. It has guided the way in which I have directed the subjects. It converges the past and present; sculptural in appearance, shot with Rembrandt-inspired lighting, yet representing contemporary conversations. My lighting choices are inspired by Irving Penn but also strongly influenced by renaissance paintings; renaissance art was driven by the idea of ‘humanism’, downplaying religious and secular dogma where greater importance was placed on the individual. These decisions were made in an effort to guide a homogenous project; equality, uniformity and all whilst celebrating the uncelebrated. During my research I came across a quote from Irving Penn. He said, “A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective.” This resonated with me because in effect, I am exactly communicating a fact - that amputees exist. But the manner in which I am lighting and capturing them aims to touch the heart and leave its audience a transformed person, thus attempting to fulfil the portrait master's criteria for a "good photograph".
My project remains ongoing and with the opportunity of the Photogrvphy Grant, I would like to photograph more amputees of diversity. At this point in time I have 20 images ready for print.
I’d like for my work to be displayed with delicacy whilst still being accessible to all. Using my growing connections with the art world, I hope to show my project to gallerists, philanthropists and charities and consider the Photogrvphy Grant invaluable.
So far this has been an incredible journey in collaboration with astonishingly strong and determined people who have had their lives dramatically changed. The strength of these individuals and the perspective they keep is inspiring and I am hugely grateful to be there for some of their journey of empowerment and reclamation of identity.
Manon Ouimet is a London based photographer, artist and fine artist. A reputation spanning continents within fashion, beauty and portraiture photography. Manon has a keen eye for the function and composition of the human body and the ability to respect and highlight the beauty of oneself. Manon’s work will hope to accomplish a change in our perception of beauty by affecting the narrative of society through her artistic contribution via the use of photography and mixed media platforms.