Maddie answered an ad I posted. She understood I wanted to make a shoot with people who have visible scars and trusted my judgement from seeing other portraits on the site. When she came in, I saw a woman whose haircolor was as strong as her determination. There is something about Maddie - a poem of a face with affirmatives and exclamations and a scar above the upper lip as punctuation.
Here she is in her own words:
When I was small, sometimes other children would ask me 'what happened?' Then they would point to their lip, to indicate the area that they meant. I was genuinely not sure what they were asking me, and I'd reply with 'Nothing, it's just like yours.'
While my scar is very minimal, like any scar it has had an impact on my life and represents a trial. I was very lucky to be born with only a minor cleft lip, which, after a difficult surgery, left me with only a minor scar that would carry major implications. It wasn't until I understood what it that scar meant; the visual representation of a 'defect' that had needed to be fixed; that I began to grow self-conscious of it. It's difficult, as a young woman, to accept a compliment like 'you're beautiful!' when the truth is the only reason I have my scar is aesthetics. My cleft lip wouldn't have affected my breathing, or my eating, or my speech: only the way I looked, and thus, how people would view me. Knowing this and internalizing this changes the way you view yourself.
Chris Cleve, in his book "Little Bee", has a very good quote. I think it's very true and very powerful: “We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, 'I survived'.”
It takes a long time to learn this. For every dozen actors who are cast as the villain because of their cleft lip, there is only one Hassan in "The Kite Runner" to show that the scar doesn't necessitate evil. For every reiteration of Francis Dolarhyde, there is only one Kondou Otsune, and she is a rarely-talked-about historical figure that has been erased in popular media. "Hairlipped Heroes" aren't in vogue.
That is why I decided to do this project called Facemotions. To make the scar visible. Modeling is what helped me overcome my own inhibitions and insecurities, but the truth is, I've always preferred shots where you can't see my scar. There was a certain hypocrisy in this that I didn't like: having confidence, while still hiding. A few years ago, I went in for a minor nasal surgery and a room full of doctors in scrubs asked me for permission to 'fix my lip better' while they went in to work with my nose. I realized, I didn't want them to 'fix' anything. This was me. This is what I look like, part of my identity. I like that my mouth has a natural part, that using lipstick I can give it different shapes, that it doesn't look like everybody else's. Sure, sometimes that's a very uncomfortable thing, and I've had my share of 'what's wrong with your face?' comments. But nothing is wrong with my face. What is wrong, I think, is the emphasis we put on 'fixing ourselves.'
My father used to tell me 'You're the most beautiful girl in the world' and I would say 'If that's really true, I should enter every beauty pageant' and he'd reply 'well, that's the thing about beauty; not everyone sees it the same way.' I agree.
I wanted to do this Facemotions project because it made me uncomfortable. Because it wasn't my idea of beauty, maybe, but my idea of ownership. Of my identity, that I have learned to be proud of, which has been a defining lesson for me throughout my life in critical thinking, empathy, and self-assurance. Because I could be told by medical professionals that I was clinically unattractive, and then scouted for a modeling contract while going to school in Japan. Because Rufus Sewell is always the bad guy, but Khaled Hosseini does not play by those rules.
I'm still a little scared by it. But that feels good. It feels good to have done something that matters enough to be scared by it.
I had seen Stephanie's work before replying to her ad. It was beautiful: and not in the typified commercial sense, but in the visceral sense. You could see the emotion drawn onto people's face, their personalities bursting forth in multi-coloured shades. In a way, Steaphie's project made everyone look the same, by making everyone look so vastly different. No two people were alike, or 'normal', and there was certainly a cohesive oneness about that. Yet looking at those portraits told me more about who everyone was as an individual. They were respectful, empowering portraits that focused on bringing who people were on the inside out loud and into focus, using their faces as a canvas. Stephanie has the keen insight to do that.
I felt very comfortable in sitting for her. Even better, for me, was bringing along a friend and seeing her included in the project, watching her transformation as well. You become very quickly comfortable in wearing your paint. Even after washing up, I was still finding Stephanie's lines on me for hours after- and there was something ironic about being less self-conscious of those big red streaks on my face than a tiny scar! It certainly put it into perspective, which I think is a wonderful thing to take away from Facemotions: new perspective.
Stephanie Corne is a French American Artist living in NYC who welcomes any inquiry about portrait making.