Going viral on the Internet – is that not every artist’s holy grail of exposure? Imagine: a wave of interest flooding the social media channels as millions are surfing the web and sharing your work. For Chicago-based photographer Gracie Hagen, this has been the case during the last couple of weeks. The snowflake that got the avalanche moving was a post that one of her friends made on “the front page of the internet,” Reddit. It was received to great acclaim and the rest is now social media history; from The Huffington Post to Buzzfeed, her images have been liked, shared – and even hated on – countless times. And it may not be difficult to see the reason for this attention: the naked body, for one, has always been a click-magnet, but it is the universality in the content of her work that makes this series so relatable to all of us.
For the project, Hagen photographed nude models (same angle, lighting and background) in two different poses. On the left side you get to see the “attractive” version of the illusion while on the right side is a countering, un-flattering look.
The series "was made to tackle the supposed norms of what we think our bodies are supposed to look like," writes Hagen in her artist statement. "Most of us realize that the media displays only the prettiest photos of people, yet we compare ourselves to those images. We never get to see the photos juxtaposed against a picture of that same person looking unflattering."
Regarding the best and worst part of riding the Internet’s viral waves of attention, she tells Artparasites: “The best part of the amount of exposure this series is getting is the positive effects it's having on people's body image issues. I see comments like, 'Now I don't feel so bad about my boobs!' & 'I suddenly feel like it’s okay to be human. I feel beautiful,' which was the intention of the series; to help with body image issues.”
And the worst part of the experience? “The people that are saying all the models in the series are ugly & negatively commenting on the amount of body hair some of the women have. It kind of just points out the problems I'm trying to tackle with this series: The public's 'norms' of what people are supposed to look like. Also, some of the interpretations of the series are drastically wrong – but I understand that art is interpretive; I'm not going to count someone's different view of it as a bad experience.”
When asked if the viral result has made an impact in the way she views her own work, she says it really hasn't. But it has made her rethink the way she'll write her artist statement for the next series. " [It] Also made me realize that there is never going to be a time where everyone understands the work I'm making or gets the same thing out of it. Like I said earlier, art is interpretive."
Some illusions work better than others, especially in those sets where it appears that two different people have been placed side by side. But what I find most remarkable about the sets is that, despite seeing these individuals in their naked glory, we never get to see their true figures. That is, they have been made ideal (by popular media standards) on the left side and made unflattering on the right, leaving reality floating somewhere in the middle. What comes as a revelation from this experiment is the fact that we are shape-shifters: we can go from attractiveness to unattractiveness at the speed of a flash. And that's because we are both and neither. It is all an illusion that we need to look past in order to truly see, understand, and love our bodies and ourselves better.
Article by Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra
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