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Not Quite a Book Review

this is who I am, our beauty in all shapes and sizes
Rosanne Olson
Publisher: Artisan
Division of Workman Publishing, Inc.
www.artisanbooks.com
ISBN-13: 978-1-57965-363-7

Briefly, the author is a commercial photographer with some success and credentials, and lives in Seattle. Her web site is www.rosanneolson.com
(Those links should open in new windows or equivalent.)

Now, the reason I say 'not quite' a book review is because I'm still reading this one. This is one of the two I picked up recently at Goering's, and one of the reasons I've always like Goering's and by extension most independent bookstores. Not that the big franchise chains don't have their place. I simply feel I'd be less likely to find something like this in those places.

The title text above is transcribed directly from the jacket; the portion after the comma does not appear on the title page, but the title is printed exactly that way. So I've transcribed it that way because I've got the feeling it is part of the artist's 'work'. Ms. Olson photographed 54 women, and again as the jacket blurb says '...with stories to tell prove that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.'

The book is a combination, then, the portraits themselves paired with the results of written or oral interviews these women took part in with Ms. Olson. I hadn't looked at any of the photographs when I decided to purchase it, only at the Introduction. She described her path to the making of this body of work, including the questions she asked each person and how she then included their answers with their portraits. The portraits alone are powerful glimpses into the soul of a person. Combined with the portrayed's comments themselves it becomes quite an experience. I find myself stopping after viewing two or at most three portraits. And it occurred to me, with a chuckle, that this process fit Jubal Harshaws description to Ben Caxton of viewing art in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

She started this process doing something very similar to something I've done: she photographed a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer during her treatment for that cancer. Similar, because I've not so much photographed people during their treatment as making work to heighten awareness of the need. The need for early detection (contributes to the greatest survival rate), the need for choosing treatment, the need for further research into treatment. And in one instance, of someone after the completion of that process.

I'd thought about conducting similar interviews with the people who took part in this, my project. Sort of shelved it as other things, including but not limited by the fact that my primary income is not my art, all took some time back to themselves for those purposes.

It's still something I am very interested in doing, and I'm not sure I'd limit to those people who take part in what I call my 'Healing Art' project. Just as that project grew in concept from simply making portraits of people doing breast self-examination to including an exploration of self-image changes involved in the process of dealing with breast cancer, I started getting interested in what might be some of the reasons anyone would choose to be portrayed nude.

In short, I encountered a couple instances where the choice contributed to someone making a change in their life or life-style to improve their condition. Not, as might seem obvious since I're talking about nudes, not to change their physical appearance, but to change something in their life they are not happy with, or preserve something they are happy with to be able to pass along to their children.

So the questions asked in this book are also questions I'd thought of asking, or are questions I would now add to the list. I'm interested in the answers, actually, enough to include the questions here. No, I'm not asking if anyone is interested in modeling. Trust me on this, I'm a lot more direct when I get that interest. Nor do I discount that someone might be interested. There are people on my Flist who have worked with me, and others who've discussed the possibility/probability of doing so.

Suffice it that I'm interested, whether or not you might meet those criteria. I will screen the answers, unless you indicate you are comfortable with your answers being public. There is in no manner this is mandatory - I have always taken the position that participation in something like this is elective, much like the 'informed consent' of elective surgery.

I'm interested because, frankly, I believe the point in time when I started to treat my nude work as portraits, portrayal of a person, rather than as 'nudes', is when I started to consistently create better art. This is true even for those pieces which because of the framing/composition would be considered torsos, or studies of portions rather than the entire body.

And so, the questions are:

What do you love about your body?
How long has it taken you to arrive at acceptance/love of your body?
What frustrates you about your body?
What would you like to change?
Has your body let you down (if you feel that it has) or have you let your body down?
How have you supported your body?
How have your feelings changed since you were younger?
In general, how do you feel women feel about their bodies?
How do you feel the media have affected how women feel about their bodies?
Why did you decide to be photographed?

Now, obviously (or perhaps not) the last question may not apply.
Also, not particularly obviously, if you are male feel free to answer these questions substituting 'man/men' for 'woman/women'. Or not. And by all means go check out Ms. Olson's book. Because I am quite sure, oh so very sure, that part of the power in that art is due to the woman-woman interaction. Not saying better than woman-man interaction, or man-man interaction, is any less powerful or valid. Just that each has its own unique power, and I am not sure that results here will be particularly similar to hers.

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