Illusions of the Body

talks to Gracie Hagen about the use of photography in influencing modern perceptions of beauty

Gracie Hagen runs a small photography business, but in the last few months her photography has gone viral. More specifically, it is her project Illusions of the Body which has captured the world’s fascination. The series features two nude photographs being taken of the same model; one in a flattering pose and the other in an unflattering pose.

all photographs courtesy of Gracie Hagen

all photographs courtesy of Gracie Hagen

Gracie was first inspired to take up the project in order to challenge “the body image issues we as a culture have and the misconception that the photos we see in the media are accurate portrayals of people”.

She is trying to send a message, and that message is for everyone, both “people who have body image issues and people who judge how other people look based on what their standard of beauty is, which is usually built upon what they see in the media.

“The more everyone realises that the imagery being shown to them is a selling mechanism, and that’s it’s trickery, the more they can look at it with that lens and progress through the day without feeling terrible about themselves or other people.”

Does she feel as though this goal has been achieved? “I feel like in some aspects [it has]. The goal and how I achieve it has become more clear as the project has progressed. Within the diptych the idea is achieved when the person looks like two totally different people. That’s the illusion of photography, within the same lighting and same angle, same everything someone can look completely different from one photo to the next.”

Unsurprisingly, a photo-shoot with the main aim of making its subject look ugly did not appeal to some and there was an initial struggle to find models. “Some women were uncomfortable participating because they felt uncomfortable with the idea of an unflattering photo of them being out there. Men were hard to find because [of] the places I was looking. Since the series has got some press, I’ve recruited at least four more men and received a lot more interest in general in terms of participation.”

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With the wide-reaching influence these photos have achieved, many have seen the series as an attempt to redefine what it means to be attractive. “I feel like it’s been taken that way by people, even though that wasn’t my intent. But art is interpretive so I’ll take it.”
Instead, Gracie thinks, “Maybe I’ve helped people realise not to hold themselves to the fake standards of magazines and with that process made themselves feel more attractive.”

Gracie believes that art is just as important as rhetoric in challenging the images of beauty promoted by the media. “I mean, art is the place where ideas can be translated in many different ways so people can express themselves and for others to consume the ideas. Art is just as important as the people blogging or talking about the beauty portrayed in the media. Everyone understands things differently so the more ways in which the idea of beauty in the media is out there, the better.”

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Illusions of the Body has generated an incredible amount of international attention. “I was surprised with the amount of interest people have showed in it, the viral-ness of it on the internet.

“I’ve also been surprised with the comments on some of the larger websites (Huffington Post and the Mail Online to name a few) where people were incredibly negative. Not even about my photography but more about the models in the photographs, saying how ugly everyone was and making comments about body hair and even the amount of tattoos people had.

“I guess I live in a bubble where the people I took photos of don’t look unattractive and body hair and tattoos are things I’m used to.”

The viral success of Gracie’s photographs has met with different receptions, with some websites choosing to blur out the more explicit aspects of the nude pictures. “It’s interesting to see who and where the blurred photos are. Who meaning the different websites and who they cater to, and also where meaning the countries that have to blur (America) and the places they don’t (Europe).

“Cultures are different and the people websites cater to are as well. One website had the full nudes of everyone but blurred the one male photo, which I found to be incredibly frustrating. The double standards of male nudity in almost all mediums is frustrating.”

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Not one to sit still, Gracie is running other projects alongside continuing Illusions of the Body.

“I have a series I am doing on people with physical abnormalities. That could mean a genetic defect or an accident that changed a physical aspect of their life. I am attempting to tackle physical differences that most people don’t have and document how that particular distinction affects the person in a safe, positive and humanising way. I want to do more video work, as my original goal was to be a film maker.”

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