What is "beauty"?

Posted by Mary Hendra on January 20, 2016

What would it mean to have your picture taken by a world-renowned fashion photographer? What would it mean to your daughter or son? What could it mean for your students, more specifically for that student who walks in, head down, and heads to the back of the classroom, to the shadows?

Positive Exposure, featured in a special exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance, turns society’s definition of “beauty” on its head and asks us to “change how you see, see how you change.”

positive exposure 4Rick Guidotti, fashion photographer for the likes of Yves St Laurent, Revlon, L’Oreal, Elle, Harpers Bazaar and GQ, questioned societal standards when he saw a beautiful woman with albinism. In standard fashion industry protocol, this was a woman who would not be featured on a magazine cover. Exploring photographs of albinism, Rick found that their humanity was removed. Clinical photographs predominated, focusing only on the condition or diseased body parts. Rick's photographs, in contrast, could be on the cover of a fashion magazine, and the positive exposure 2people he has photographed blossom with public recognition of their beauty.

Rick went on to photograph individuals excluded from the definition of “beauty” by other conditions, and to set up Positive Exposure. The photographs on display at the Museum feature local individuals. Each is so beautiful, at times I found myself wondering what disability or positive exposure 3condition was even part of their life – that element of their identity is completely dwarfed in the photographs by the absolute beauty of the person.

At a Q&A with Rick after the Museum of Tolerance screening of On Beauty, an award-winning documentary short about Rick's work, Rick was asked about his shift in focus.

I’ve never photographed a genetic condition. I’ve only ever photographed beauty."

He continued later,

Nobody wants to be seen as a disease or condition. We all want to be seen as human beings.”

positive exposure 1In Facing History classrooms we often talk about small steps to dismantling democracy, steps which gradually dehumanize “the other.” Rick’s photographs, it seems to me, are small steps to humanize people set apart by societal standards.

Topics: Identity, Los Angeles, Social and Emotional Learning, Community Event

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