Continuing with my research into Body Image within Self Portraiture, I came across the photographer Jen Davis, and her series 11 years, which has seen multiple exhibitions and has been published in a book of the same name.
Davis spent 11 years making self portraits using a 4×3 view camera. Initially, she began taking the photographs as a means to explore her own insecurities and as a means of coming to terms with her body. After 9 years, her work was widely exhibited and well received, but Davis, who has always been overweight, noticed that she had changed very little over the years. What began with the aim of helping her come to terms with her own body, ended up prompting Davis into weight loss surgery which resulted in the rapid loss of 110lbs. The last few images in the series go on to narrate the next few years, post weight-loss.
There are of course sub-narratives to the series which highlight Davis’ feelings of isolation, her fantasies and desire for acceptance in a society that has preconceived ideas about what makes a woman beautiful or attractive. All of these narratives are accentuated by the length of the project.
The project was prompted by an initial photograph, taken whilst at the beach with friends.
Davis talks about this image in several interviews as being the starting point for her self-portraits. Dressed very reservedly whilst surrounded by slim friends wearing revealing clothing, she was drawn to explore the insecurities she felt on seeing the photograph.
In essence, this was her “call to action”, albeit, her intent was to be able to accept her body image, whereas mine is to change it.
What I find most interesting is the changing context of this series. Initially, the work was created by Davis, for Davis, in much the same way that I want to create Photographs for me. The work was then appropriated into the gallery as Art, before Davis made the decision to undergo surgery. After the weight loss, the cycle started over, with Davis documenting her ‘new self’ before the work was again appropriated in to the gallery and then a book.
So where is the relevance, if any? For a start, I do not have such a large amount of time over which to complete my project. I find Davis’ work to be exploratory, Psychologically rather than Physically, where as I see my work being the opposite. Pressure Point is an exception. When taking this first photograph, Davis had no intention to create an 11 year long project. She didn’t even have an intention of making a series. It was her reaction to this image that prompted the series. It was therefore her psychological reaction to seeing the physical bodies within the photo that drove her. That is what I’m after. 11 Years is a narrative in the true sense. It has a beginning, middle and a happy ending. I see no other option with my project than for it to be open ended. At least it will be at the point of submission, but I can of course continue it into the future. I’ve already expressed a desire to create my series objectively, which I think Davis has done with Pressure Point. Later images however are more subjective, and we see her take on the role of an actress playing herself. Contextually, Davis asks as many questions about wider society as she does about herself, whereas I intend to be more inwardly focused.
I have found looking at this series to be very interesting, and it has demonstrated that personally driven work, when combined with the bravery and integrity to confront their own insecurities, can inspire the author to make quite drastic changes.