Jen Davis’ story is quite inspirational. Stuck for creative inspiration while an undergraduate at Columbia College in 2002, she began photographing herself. At that time she weighed 269 pounds. Having previously taken photographs depicting loneliness and insularity, she realised that these were really self-absented portraits. Reading her old journals confirmed she had been having the same issues for years, so she decided to turn the camera on herself in order to better understand her problems and hopefully free herself from it. Her project lasted for about ten years during which time she had lap-band surgery and eventually started to lose some weight. Her life has changed: she now goes on dates and has a social life.
Her series is incredibly honest and very brave. It takes a lot of guts to bare all in front of a camera when one has weight issues. She manages to convey her insecurities and doubts to the viewer in a very raw way. Originally her intention with the work was to better understand herself, and not for public viewing at all.
There is a sense that the camera acts as an alter-ego. In some self-portraits she looks into the camera as if asking it a question, or confronting its gaze.
Salter, K (2013)
The images that feature men are constructed narratives as Davis had never had a boyfriend and had no idea what intimacy felt like so she used models in order to gain an understanding of what it felt like to be touched and held.
She photographs herself going about her daily life in simple scenarios, most times wearing either a pensive or solemn expression.
There is one poignant image of her sitting on her bed (Untitled No. 39. 2010 – No. 15 in the series on her website) in Renaissance type lighting – the rest of the room thrown into deep blue shadow. She has a brown towel turban around her hair, either having just stepped out of the shower or washed her hair and she is buttoning up a bottle green cardigan. Her legs are bare and are draped over the side of the bed. She stares absently into the middle distance, a box of tissues prominent on the dresser next to the bed. She appears so vulnerable, dejected and alone in this image. One can almost feel her pain and rejection.
Her images are quite visceral, initially invoking feelings of something close to disgust. How could someone flaunt a body like that? But that is the result of Western society’s preconditioning women to believe we should all have svelte hourglass bodies. The real fact is that we don’t, and we shouldn’t strive for those false, airbrushed, manipulated images we see in the fashion magazines. The more I looked at Jen Davis’ images the more my feelings of discomfort dissipated. What I was witnessing was someone’s courage, her inner beauty of determination, her insecurities and her longing for intimacy – a woman who had not yet reached her full potential.
Salter, Kate (2013). Jen Davis interview: The skin I was in [online] The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/9930597/Jen-Davis-interview-The-skin-I-was-in.html [Accessed 18 November, 2016]
Jen Davis. Self-Portraits [online] Available at: http://www.jendavisphoto.com/index.php?/work/self-portraits/ [Accessed 18 November 2016]
http://www.oprah.com/health/Jen-Davis-Self-Portraits-Weight-Loss-and-Photography [Accessed 18 November, 2016]Coming Into Focus: 3 Photos That Will Change How You Think About Your Body [online]. Oprah.com. Available at: