By exposing supposed “flaws” in the human face when photographed under UV light, Detroit-born and Brooklyn-based photographer Cara Phillips manages instead to celebrate the beauty that is each of her subjects along with all of their very human “flaws.” Her series On Beauty presents portraits of said subjects under UV light each with their eyes closed; some smile softly while others seem to just be waiting for the shutter to release. Their faces shine, there are various speckles and spots with which we are all familiar, some have glossy lips and wear make-up, some have wayward hair styles, cowlicks, etc., but who cares? Taking ownership of ourselves in the face (ahem) of the longstanding and perverse current standards of beauty is perhaps one of the first steps towards accepting the beauty that has been within us from the get go. We spoke with Phillips in greater detail about her project.
Do you think we can work to change “ideals” or “standards” of beauty? How so?
“For me the artist’s primary purpose is to question the status quo, both in their medium and in society. I think it is naive and perhaps a kind of hubris to think that one’s art can create real social change. That said, I do think that raising issues in your work has value. If you can get people talking about an issue or thinking differently about it because of an image, that is something. The train left the station long ago on beauty standards and what we perceive as ‘normative’ female beauty in commercial imagery, but I think as we shift from a society that looks at the other (celebrities, models) to a society that looks at the self (social media) these issues only become more interesting. So it is perhaps more important than ever to be exploring these issues.”
Did you learn anything about yourself as a woman/photographer in the making of this work?
“The very first portrait I made in the series was a self-portrait. I felt I could not ask anyone else to go through the process unless I had been through it myself. Despite my own history of self-criticism, I found it to be very liberating. And I would say that when I began the project I was much more focused on the “beauty” standard piece of the work, but as the work developed I was pleasantly surprised by how much the final portraits became about form as well as content.”
Phillips currently has work on view in Up, Close & Personal, a group show curated by collector and photographer Ruben Natal-San Miguel at Fuchs Projects in Bushwick, Brooklyn through May 13th. Featuring a healthy handful of over 30 contemporary photographers and a mix of fine art, conceptual, portrait, documentary and street photography, the collection explores the relationships that these artists have to their intimate, personal bodies of work—the idea, the approach, the process along the way.