In her book Eleven Years, Brooklyn-based photographer Jen Davis (1978, USA) publishes her personal story in a series of self-portraits taken over eleven years. As an overweight woman who doesn't fit society's typical beauty ideals, Davis presents herself unapologetically in 55 bold images that serve to communicate what she describes as “the direct correlation between self-perception and the way one is perceived by others." She uses her camera as a tool to confront her insecurity concerning her body image, dealing with issues of beauty, desire and image, and meanwhile also sharing her thoughts about a society that defines beauty primarily through outer appearance.
Taking on the role of her own muse, Davis tells her story in a mixture of biographical documentary and composed scenery. In a deliberate act of roleplaying and self-deception, Davis created a character out of herself as a tool to gain the visibility, recognition and the external gaze that she was lacking. She creates scenes of intimacy with men that she barely knew in actuality and positions herself in the images as a woman that she feels is worth being gazed at. In her pictures, she says, she was able to accept a beauty that she could not accept concerning herself.
Through the use of cool, earthy and vibrant colours she creates a delicate atmosphere that is dominated by wistfulness. In one of her pictures, she sits on the edge of a bed, wrapped in a blanket, with the lower half of a man's browned body reclining next to her. The pale green sheet she's wrapped in dissolves into the colour of the background, with the result that she almost seems to disappear. Her facial expression, as it appears in many images, is simultaneously defiant and resigned. Varying between rather casual snapshots and carefully composed scenes, the conscious use of natural light and shadows are a common thread running through the images and are, according to Davis, what “dictates" her pictures. Thoughtfully planned around her feelings and desires, the pictures add emotional weight to daily moments of seeming insignificance. Shot in mostly private situations, at times just a glimpse into another room, viewers are cast sometimes as voyeurs, and other times, through her penetrating eye-contact, as co-conspirators.
In Eleven Years, Davis is muse as well as artist, spectator as well as protagonist, subject as well as investigator. The book shows a biography between aspiration and acceptance, reality and fiction, insecurity and unflinching vulnerability. What started out as an experiment on self-perception developed to an artistic project that took place over eleven years and shows the self-affirming development of a woman anxious through the expectations of society.
Eleven Years is available at Kehrer Verlag.