BRATTLEBORO -- What started out as a casual conversation about liposuction evolved into a major undertaking by photographers Liz LaVorgna and Shanta Crowley (a.k.a. Shanta L.E.) to celebrate our imperfections. Photography and Stories of Imperfection, a collaborative photography and spoken word exhibit is set to debut at 5:30 p.m. during Gallery Walk on Friday, Sept. 5 at The River Garden - in partnership with the Arts Council of Windham County and the Womens Freedom Center.
That liposuction conversation led LaVorgna and Crowley to developing the idea of seeking volunteers for photo shoots with a goal of photographing what the volunteer subjects felt represented their imperfection. As professional photographers they had encountered many people who perceived themselves as much more imperfect than those around them viewed them. Both photographers saw an overwhelming misconception in our society that we don't measure up, that we feel we are just not good enough. LaVorgna and Crowley hoped that this project would help people feel better about themselves.
Crowley said of the project, "Perfect Imperfection means so much to me because everyday I place myself upon a tightrope and I have suffered (and still do) from overachieving in an effort to chase the eternal myth of getting things right. This has been reflected in the complicated relationship that I have in accepting parts of myself. When Liz and I decided to do this project and started with shooting each other I thought of many things that I wanted to reveal, but I was not quite ready to share the most vulnerable thing that has long felt like a handicap ....my lazy eye. It was what I was teased for as a child, it makes guest appearances in photos (especially if I am tired), and when people have noticed it (and they usually say something out loud), I am instantly brought to a place of instant embarrassment and vulnerability. Years ago, a family member commented about my lazy eye and then followed with 'You are still pretty' as if somehow having such a thing threatened my sense of belief in my own beauty. As a result of carrying this around, this heavy baggage, I sometimes look away during conversations that involve direct eye contact or look down briefly in hopes that the person does not notice it. It is definitely something I am still working on so I won't lie and say that I have accepted it, but it is indeed one of my many perfect imperfections. I want others to know they are not alone in their struggle to accept themselves and perhaps this project can encourage more understanding and an embrace of the parts that may appear a little broken, tattered, or displaced physically or emotionally within ourselves."
Each subject was encouraged to share a bit of their story with LaVorgna or Crowley so she could begin the creative process of expressing that in print. Crowley pointed out that it was a collaboration between subject and photographer in choosing the setting and how best to portray their message. They agreed that the process was healing for the subject as those being photographed became more comfortable and were able to allow themselves the vulnerability of letting the whole world see their perceived imperfection. Often, LaVorgna and Crowley also found, was that what started out as the desire to have a physical imperfection photographed morphed into revealing an emotional imperfection that they (the volunteer) would rather have photographed. That was a creative challenge. After all, how does one photograph something as abstract as the fear of abandonment or someone's struggle with manic depression? It was important for LaVorgna and Crowley that the subjects felt safe by giving them control of the session. Something photographers are not entirely comfortable with, and both women felt that was the hardest part for them but they wanted their subjects to be OK with what they were doing. LaVorgna and Crowley would choose the best shots from a session, then present those for a final choice by the volunteer.
The shoots were emotional for the photographed and the photographer alike. Crowley and LaVorgna found that they went on the journey with their subjects, touching on their own self-doubts and feelings of imperfections as well. In some cases the imperfections were the result of something beautiful, like stretch marks, embracing that imperfection because without it they wouldn't have that wonderful part of their life. LaVorgna described the whole process for the volunteers as cathartic and transformative. Most importantly it was empowering - the act of taking oneself out of one's comfort zone, often punctuated with tears, left them feeling really good about it. It opened the door to change, with the possibility of becoming more open to sharing with others.
It is also empowering for the viewers of the exhibit. On display are subjects exposing their vulnerabilities for the world to see, allowing the viewer to touch upon their own feelings of inadequacies and perhaps the courage to share also.
Crowley stated that beauty is in the stuff that isn't perfect. LaVorga heartily agreed and added, "We are all unique and have gifts for the world. We are all good enough and lovable. We just need to believe it and really see it. The beauty is in the imperfection.'
They also agreed that regular photo shoots are definitely easier, but this project was the most rewarding project they had ever done. In the end subjects felt really good about their photos, and better about themselves. It made a difference, which is what the two photographers had hoped for.
They would be thrilled to see this grow into a nationwide, or even worldwide, movement to counteract media input trying to convince us we all need improving. In the meantime they are ecstatic that their exhibit will be on display at the Vermont Center for Photography on Flat Street next April.
On Friday's opening night at the River Garden, 157 Main St., in Brattleboro, an artists' reception begins at 5:30 p.m. Prose will also be on display, interspersed among the photographs, then from 8 to 9:30 p.m., Perfect Imperfections in the spoken word will be presented with special guests Diana Whitney and Cyndi Fitzgerald. The exhibit will continue to be on display at the River Garden through Sept. 30.
Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-254-2311 x261 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ReformerOvation.