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Good idea, needs work
on April 17, 2009
Rosanne Olson photographed 54 naked women from the age of 19 to 95, her book flap says. Oops, one girl is listed as 16, and there are a few prepubescents. Did someone not want the publicity to say that there were naked minors in the book? Two of the girls wear undershorts...
Those details any reader might notice in This Is Who I Am. Admittedly, the larger picture is more important. Olson presents her photographs of women and a few girls, basically nude (I'll get to that shortly), with their statements about their bodies. The combination is important, although it could work better. If a woman writes about the front of her body but is pictured seated from the back, we lose the connection between word and image. This happens more than once.
The statements come from a questionnaire Olson gave her subjects. It starts with "What do you love about your body?" Happily, that triteness is mitigated by other questions. The women discuss their skin colour, body parts, aging, illnesses, and other body-related issues, including families. Indeed, one of the best statements comes from a woman who's 42, writing about her wishes for her two girls, who are in the photo with her.
The photographs are all sepia, all taken in a studio, and mostly with drapes, veils, and the like. When not using these to cover certain body parts, most of the subjects accomplish that with their arms or by turning away from the camera. It's what Lee Baxandall called faux-nudity, body acceptance suggested in text along with its denial in the images as a whole. Pictorially only a few women escape this implied body shame in a book that otherwise rightly criticizes it.