Words and pictures by Moira Leonard
Are you beautiful enough? Is your body size zero? Are your eyelashes long enough? Do you always say the right thing? Do you ‘fit in’? No? Well we can help you with that. Just use our cosmetics/surgery/therapy (delete as appropriate) and you will be ‘perfect’. Except you won’t be. You will just continue the relentless struggle to comply with the currently desirable and constantly changing ‘ideal’ that our society has apparently decided is right for us today.
These are some of the universal issues highlighted in an interesting exhibition currently showing at the Brindley Theatre in Runcorn. A collaboration between Adam Lee (exhibition photographer) and Elaine Owen (dramatist) with three groups of young people from Ormiston Bolingbroke Academy, Wade Deacon High School and the Make it Happen Group (run by young Addaction). Following ten workshops exploring their ideas and storyboarding narratives, the result is a series of very thought provoking images that will make you stop, think and ponder.
This may be a relatively small exhibition, only fifteen photographs in total, however, every one of them is engaging and tells their own own story. Three pictures really stood out for me:
Letting Go, by Wade Deacon High School: a young girl with long dark curls and a rucksack walks away from the viewer having cast aside the shackles of modern day living that seemingly paralyse her. She is outdoors. A mirror sits in the foreground reflecting the break in the clouds with a tantalising glimpse of blue sky beyond. The image radiates hope, happiness, and a rejection of limitations. The rucksack teases a question: where is she going? It’s immaterial really, she’s letting go and you get the sense that, from here, good things will happen for her.
Photoshopped by Wade Deacon High School. On one level it’s very funny. A ridiculous image is created on a computer screen in the centre of the photograph, with the starting point obviously being the young girl sitting innocently in a chair in the foreground. However, look beyond the humour and there is a very sinister undertone. Instructions for the photoshopper appear on a whiteboard: ‘bigger eyes, fuller lips, longer lashes’. These are messages western women are constantly absorbing in the quest to be ‘beautiful’. In the end the final image is horrific, out of proportion and absolutely nothing like the original model who is natural and lovely just as she is.
And finally the picture that I just keep coming back to again and again Being Who I am by Make it Happen. A joyful image of a young man simply looking at himself in a mirror. The reflection in his eyes is one of love and admiration. For me that is the underlying message of the whole exhibition: when you strip away all the masks and superficial layers and are able to love and believe in yourself, just as you are, that is what really matters. And yes… you are beautiful enough.
A quietly clever and accomplished exhibition that is definitely worth a trip to Runcorn.