Michelle Sank

Having now hopefully gotten a handle on a concept for Assignment 2, I am now doing some extra research and looking at photographers who have eating disorders or body image issues among their oevres.

Michelle Sank is South African born, but moved to the UK in 1987 and has exhibited in Europe, Mexico, South Africa, Australia and England. She has won numerous awards including being a winner in the National Portrait Gallery’s Photographic Prize in London in 2007, the Single Image Winner in the International Photographic Award in 2010, the British Journal of Photography and in 2012 a Single Image winner in Lens Culture International Photographic Awards.

Sank’s series, In My Skin features young men and ladies under the age of twenty five who are challenging their body image. Never satisfied with their own images and always holding the media images of super models and celebrities as their ideals of perfection, these young people try and change their appearance, whether it be by eating disorders, cosmetic surgery or transgenderism.

Sank has photographed the majority of the young people in their bedroom, mostly posing on their beds. The young women especially emulate poses that they have seen in magazines or in the movies, legs curled to the side, leaning in towards the camera to display their cleavages and pouting. The young men too, with the exception of one, are also strangely posed in similar girly poses, and this causes ambiguity and causes the viewer to stop and question the images. The poses that these young people strike immediately reminded me of Rineke Dijkstra’s Buzz Club project.

In My Skin_2 by Michelle Sank
In My Skin_2 by Michelle Sank

The young man above takes up a very feminine stance, conforming to the S-curve stance. He puts his weight on his right leg, thrusting the hip out sideways and bends the left leg, causing his torso to lean backwards and curve away from the camera slightly. He clasps his hands in front of him lightly. From his carefully groomed eyebrows and coiffed hair we can see he is quite concerned with his appearance, and this is born out by the signifiers on the little shelf behind him: the hairbrush, creams, razor and other grooming paraphernalia. Below the shelf is a shoe rack filled with brown and black shoes. The fact that there are three sets of spectacles in the frame (two on the shelf and one next to the mattress) also sends a message of insecurity as he is not wearing a pair for his photograph. Dominating the wall above the shelf is a round, mosaic mirror which seems to be reflecting various images of fashion photos on the opposite wall, which we cannot see. Above the bed is a huge poster of Lady Gaga and a few more fashion photos. This image is loaded with ambiguity and definitely causes the viewer to question the identity of this young man. Who is he trying to be?

In My Skin_7 by Michelle Sank
In My Skin_7 by Michelle Sank

Contrasting that image we have this image of the young lady sitting on her bed. Her room from what we can see is fairly bland. There is just a chest of drawers next to the bed and a black polka dot duvet set on the bed. A piece of blue clothing is poking out of the top drawer and on top of the chest of drawers is an action figure with a green face, possibly the Incredible Hulk. It is a very masculine signifier for a young girl to have in her room. While she poses in a bit of a “come hither” pose on her bed in black lace and pink ribbons, her body is covered in tattoos. Skulls and dragons abound on her young body in a variety of colours, giving her skin a combination of blue and green tones. She has felt the need to enhance her youthful body by covering it in gruesome looking tattoos, lending it a very masculine appearance. It would appear that the action figure is her inspiration and role model. Again this image is loaded with ambiguity. One would normally expect a young teenage girl to have posters of her favourite pop stars on her walls, but in this image there is nothing. The image is dominated by the action figure.

In each of Sank’s images there is a unique signifier that accompanies the subject: the image of the topless girl features a large photograph of someone in a fur coat behind her; the buxom girl posing in bra and panties in front of the fireplace in the living room features a Renaissance type print of a similar looking woman with long brown hair, clothed holding a book; the young man who obviously does body building poised on the side of a couch in his underpants features two toy cars in the window sill; another young man poses on his bed with a set of weights next to him; a young man poses on his bed with a cuddly toy and frilly red cushion.

All is not what it seems in these images and Michelle Sank has successfully created images that ask questions. The viewer does not know the answers and can only interpret the images according to his/her mores and social culture. The overall common theme that I think Sank has conveyed in her images is that of vulnerability and insecurity.

Bibliography

Hall, Sean (2015). This Means This This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics. Second Edition. London. Laurence King Publishing

Smithson, Aline (2013). Michelle Sank In My Skin [online]. Lenscratch. Available at: http://lenscratch.com/2013/03/michelle-sank/ [Accessed 17 November, 2016]

Images

Sank, Michelle. In My Skin [online]. Available at: http://www.michellesank.com/portfolios/in-my-skin [Accessed 17 November, 2016]

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