Beach Bodies Are Just Bodies
Beach Bodies are Just Bodies
This week’s PhotoGenie theme is titled Bare Self.
Through visual stories our curators research the question “How can self-acceptance replace the standards of beauty?”
Have you noticed the power a place can have on the comfort you feel with your body?
At a beach, even if it is full of people, you may not really notice others or feel like you are being noticed – even though you are clothless. Outside of that space, your entire body language might transform. You may begin to sense the eyes on you and feel the discomfort of being exposed.
This power can be seen in contemporary artist Tadao Cern’s photographic representations of the beachgoer in his series Comfort Zone (2013). The subjects in the series are resting beachgoers at various public beaches on the coast of the Baltic sea who – before, during and after the shoot – are unaware that they are being photographed. Describing his project, he states, “I was surprised how a certain place or surrounding can affect people's behavior. During our everyday life, we attempt to hide our deficiencies, both physical and psychological. However, once we find ourselves on a beach – we forget about everything and start acting in an absolutely different manner. Is that because everyone else around you is doing the same?”.
In Comfort Zone, the beach somehow functions as a “buffer” to the sexualisation of the body, which in itself is a paradox given that the body at the beach is often clothless, which ought to aid doing otherwise. The beach – a space where there are “no rules”, where people usually have no inhibitions and thus are unafraid of presenting themselves how they “really are” – inserts itself in concepts such as liminal space and non-place. As Marc Augé describes in Non-Places, “If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place”. The beach, as presented in Cern’s photography, can be seen as a place which is not concerned with identity or history: what happens at the beach does not matter, anyone can access the beach and remain practically anonymous when doing so. Augé commonly describes non-places as being of supermodernity (motorways, airport lounges or supermarkets), since these “are defined partly by the words and texts they offer us: their ‘instructions for use’, [for instance ‘No smoking’] spaces in which individuals are supposed to interact only with texts”. Each beachgoer builds a world and place of their own on their towels. Cern captures these individual places through his camera when he “compartmentalizes” his subjects.
In a world where there are cameras on every corner and where social media are ubiquitous and pervasive, it is hard not to relate to Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of ‘the look’, which describes the feeling of being looked at. According to Sartre, at all times the ‘other’ is looking at us. It is by becoming aware of this, that one transforms their entire being and becomes a ‘being-for-others’. This means that an individual who senses ‘the look’ on them will act as they want to be seen, not necessarily as they are. Thus, posing is not limited to portraiture making, people go about their daily lives constantly posing, as they feel as though they are being looked at.
However, as it has been established in Comfort Zone, the beach can be a place where this look vanishes. Even while being photographed, Cern’s subjects did not feel ‘the look’. This allowed them to present themselves with an air of honesty and genuineness, which seldom appears in photographs of the (clothless) human body. For most representations of the (beach) body carry with them a sexualised idea of beauty. Cern’s art moves away from this by searching for beauty in the unposed, unusual and unperfected.
Representations of the bare body are important because they set the standards for what the body should look like. Consequently, it becomes essential to understand how each representation comes to be, and how is it possible to achieve a representation which does not oversexualize the body and encourages acceptance.
About the artist: Tadao Cern (1982) is a Lithuanian artist born in Vilnius. He concluded his Bachelor and Master in architecture at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University. He then ventured into photography and contemporary art. His visual perceptions and creative processes are very much influenced by the things he learned at the beginning. He states that “as an architect you are very closely related to human anthropological behavior and habits – you work around them, with them or try to change them. And now as an artist, I have the same field of interest – I question what affects human actions in a certain way and can those things be changed. I consider art field as a laboratory for Homo Sapiens where each art piece is an experiment helping to distinguish our actions/interactions and natural behavior boundaries - as an artist you can document, change, create or get rid of them”.
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Written by Rita Bolieiro
(based on the essay: Bolieiro, Rita. 2018. To pose or not to pose: representations of the body in Comfort Zone)