Women should be seen and heard -- and a new portrait series uses women's words and faces to make sure they are.
Created by Jennifer Bermon, the "Her | Self" series is a gallery of 28 black-and-white portraits of women from all walks of life, taken over the past 20 years. Bermon, a professional photographer and network TV producer, asked each of her subjects to write down what she saw in the image of herself and included each woman's response underneath her picture. The results are undeniably powerful.
"What better way to explore the source of women's body image issues than to see, and hear, from women themselves?" Bermon told The Huffington Post. "The photos give people insight into who the women really are and what story they want to tell about themselves."
The women featured in the photo series include an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, an NYC firefighter, a 74-year-old rabbi, a NASA scientist and a high school varsity rower. "I wanted to reveal their inner thoughts -- those words that they shared with other women in private conversation," Bermon wrote in her artist statement.
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"The one word that comes to mind is satisfaction. This is the face and posture of someone who is comfortable and satisfied with her position in life. I am a NYC firefighter in Engine 58 -- the best firehouse in the world. I am the result of many hands molding me into the firefighter I am -- especially Lt. Robert Nagel –- my hero, my role model. A man who looked life and death straight in the face, walked the walk and talked the talk. To have the best job in the best house in the best city in the world -- this explains the smile captured here. It may not always be on my face, but it is always in my heart."
Bermon started the project 20 years ago when she was a student at Mills College. She described an epiphany she had one day while listening to her friends talk about what they didn't like about themselves. "They looked perfect to me. I realized, this was a part of normal, day-to-day conversation," she said. "Did they really hear what they were saying about themselves? Do we, as women, hear what we say to ourselves? There’s something about a photograph that freezes things and gives us time to really see something. Having the women write their words, gave them a voice of their own."
Instead of simply seeing the women in these portraits, the series allows viewers to learn what these women see in themselves. "The woman's photo and her words become one piece that stands on its own, with no editing and filtering," Bermon wrote. "The viewer, first attracted to the photo, is then further drawn in by the emotions revealed by the words."
Bermon said that many of the women she photographed told her the process was therapeutic. Talking about what we see in ourselves feels good, she said. "When I take photos of the women, I hope to capture them in a simple, straightforward way -- what I see. So it’s almost objective," Bermon told HuffPost. "The photos are a jumping off point for them to write about what they are thinking, it’s all about hearing from the women."
"The project has been a labor of love," Bermon said. "The best part is that the other women get it and want to do something to open up the discussion about it."
"Her | Self" is currently on display at the dnj Gallery in Santa Monica, California until April 4.
Check out more of the images and transcripts from "Her | Self" below.
"I see a woman with questions. Is it okay to be as strong as I am? As smart as I am? It is okay to know what I know? To become a woman? It is okay to be short, ethnic and over 40 in Hollywood? My belly in this photo grounds me, I appear centered. And yet I wonder. Will my baby be healthy? Will I ruin him/her with all the mistakes I will make? I see a woman who is about to laugh or cry, could go either way. I see a girl ever hopeful, who misses her father."
"It's difficult for me to identify with my image in photos. I attribute that to a life-long habit of observation, rather than participation. This photo was taken in 2007. I was happy then, the happiest I'd been since the births of my children: I had managed after eight years of relentlessness to get our screenplay of Brokeback Mountain made into a fine film. Oliver and Amanda were my sole companions and had brought life into my home, my first dogs in nearly a decade, and a great comfort to me when in the following year, Heath tragically passed away, then my beloved older brother/best friend ended his long battle with cancer. Since this photo, Ollie and Mandy have been joined by five more orphan dogs; my foster child and young niece Ashley; and Larry and Faye McMurtry. My home today is very, very 'alive.' And I realize, looking at this photo, that this all began in 2007. And I wouldn't have it any other way..."
"At 35 I feel my place is becoming clearer, and easier. I try to be practical and realistic. I feel stronger than the 21 year old I was, who thoughts she knew everything. My body is decorated to celebrate my life. The life of my daughter who grew inside of me, the lives of my favorite people who have shaped me into who I am. I will dye my hair blue or wear glitter lipstick because why not? If I can be an example, to anyone, to do what makes you happy then that makes me happy. I am a 5’3” multi-racial, daughter, wife, mother, photographer, crochet enthusiast, dancer, coffee-lover."
“You know, what resides within is what’s important. I’ve relied on myself and the resources of my women shipmates to sail around the world twice. We have only ourselves to look to in the face of storms and offshore emergencies -- and so far we’ve looked pretty good. I’ve been essentially living on the ocean for the past 12 years and my 38 foot sailboat Tethys has been home to many (67) women on our passages. I hold my head up and have a steady gaze -- which shows in this photo. I’m self-referenced. I’m happy. I’m thinking you’re looking right back at me ready to voyage into your future as captain of your life.”
“This photo shows that I’m a happy person. I have been incredibly lucky to be able to work at something I’m passionate about, combining nature and space missions, studying volcanoes on far-off moons, how the geology of distant worlds was shaped, seeing alien landscapes for the first time… is there anything more exciting? Perhaps being at the edge of a lava lake here on Earth, feeling the almost unbearable heat… Getting where I am in my career was not easy, but it was so much fun. I feel very lucky and content. I think success is not define by where on the ‘success ladder’ you are, but by how far you have come. I grew up in Brazil, where little girls at that time were not supposed to grow up to become volcano explorers or NASA scientists. I persevered and never let go of my dream. I may not fit people’s stereotype of a female scientist. I love architecture, art, and fashion. I can say I feel as comfortable in hiking boots as I feel wearing a ballgown. We should be faithful to ourselves and respect our own individuality and that of others.”
“I can remember being 5 yrs. old at an audition overhearing the casting director say to my mom ‘Bring her back after she’s lost 5 pounds.’ And by no means was I a total chubster, I just wasn’t boney like some of the other little girls there. Regardless I was rejected because I didn’t meet up to their standards. I felt I wasn’t good enough. That’s pretty fucking heavy considering I was in kindergarden. I guess that’s when it started. So for the next 15 years I lived with the idea that since I was overweight, I was worthless, I was not good enough, boys could never like me because I didn’t look like that girl… etc. That’s such bullshit! This society is killing any inkling of a positive self image for children. Girls aren’t taught to love themselves for who they are, instead they are bombarded with images of 98 lb. girls with ridiculous D-cups instilling that is normal, and that’s how they should look if someone is ever going to love them. It’s sad. At this point in my life I can say that I’m the BOMB, not just because I am, but simply accepting my greatness without worrying what anyone else has to say about it is the shit. Love yourself for who you are. Work hard to live up to your own dreams, rather than an MTV video."
“I like the photo of me very much. I think it shows someone with a good spirit and vitality. One of the advantages of growing older is that I have let go of vanity about my physical self. The external and superficial have become less compelling as life nears its end. My self image was 74 years in the making. I was a much loved child who was fortunate enough to be successful in school and with friends. The directions to which I have put that self-confidence and energy have changed, of course, through the years. Becoming a mother has given me greater insight into myself and others. It has taught me to how to love another more than myself. Becoming a teacher, a political activist and a rabbi have given me expression to the values I espouse. Having confidence to 'go forth and do' comes from a very basic sense of oneself. I would like to think that the experiences of my life have helped me to become a gentler, more generous person.”
“I see a girl who is always striving to improve. Who is always striving for acceptance. When I look at this picture I immediately criticize my look, my thighs, my face. I always have the mindset of ‘This could be better.’ I am very hard on myself in every aspect of life. Looking at this picture I see many flaws. I also see a girl who has accomplished many things in her life, but will never be satisfied. Knowing this, I’ve learned how to cope with my feelings of self image."
"I know this woman, but I almost never take time to just look at her, let alone just appreciate her. When I saw this picture, I initially felt good like I was seeing an old friend, but once I became conscious that I was looking at myself, I immediately felt disappointed with my hair, blemishes on my skin, my weight. Perhaps I rarely look at myself because I don’t like the way I look. It makes me sad that I’m so judgemental of myself, because I’m really not that bad. I’m special. There’s something special about me, and I can see it in my own eyes. I can see my confidence, my warmth, that comes from the fighting, loving spirit deep within me. I want that energy to shine first (perhaps it does?). I wonder what others see when they look at me -- what do they see first? But that’s not the right question, is it? The question is 'what can I do so that I see the good in myself first?'"
“Umm… beauty is intertwined with the self and beyond that… this is me. My perspective is that my eyes look uneven, my nose looks wide, my hair is messy, my cheeks are chubby. I have cleavage! Yikes. I always think I look fat anyway. But why point out all my negative details and tell you what I would change about myself? There’s only so much I can hide from you."
“So in love. Ecstatic. At peace. Ursula is unbelievably gorgeous. I wish my son and husband were in this photo as well. This also describes how I feel with them. This doesn’t sound very empowered, but I never truly felt beautiful, and have never been as kind to myself as I have since I met my husband, and when I became a mother. The unconditional love they show me -- the first time I’ve ever felt unconditional love -- teaches me to learn to love myself unconditionally too. Though of course I still struggle. Some days I feel fit and beautiful. Other days, I think I’m fat and unattractive. And then I remember Ursula, and how I want her to love herself as a woman, however she is, always, and I try to love myself again."
“‘500 meters left and we are two seats down ladies, let’s empty the tanks.’ The thrill I receive when these commands are screamed at me is undescribable. It is the moments like these that define us as a person. Whether you give into that dark place, or forget about the pain and continue, the choice is yours. When I first started rowing, I called it a sport. However, it is so much more, it has become my life. I find myself constantly talking about it, thinking about it, craving it. Some may view this picture as a blonde girl smiling, but I see a girl who will stop at nothing until her goals are achieved. I will forever be thankful for the lessons that it has taught me, and the person that I call myself today."
H/T Bitch Media