Art loves beauty and self-regarding portraits, but the photo series by brilliant artist Jen Davis, opening in New York tomorrow at her first solo show, withstands a traditional approach. She’s not wearing invisble Spanx or making sassy jokes, she’s showing you eleven years of her hating her body. In Davis’s self-portraits, she’s expertly reveals the breakage of her crushed self-esteem. Because even though she should, and we all want her to, she doesn’t feel beautiful.
Her painfully self-aware pictures take the beauty-judging power away from onlookers as she creates photos of herself in beautiful situations. Her photos are arresting: she positions her solemn overweight presence in stunning, photogenic environments. You wait for tears, but it’s not a tragedy. Even as she’s full clothed, there’s a power in her willingness to shed everything that could hide her. She may be standing and sitting in beautiful magazine-spread situations, but can this woman love herself? It sometimes hurts to watch her try. She felt she couldn’t control her weight and resorted to lap band surgery. This is no sexy, confident plus-size bikini photo spread. As you scroll through the pictures, you feel her pain and the essence of this feels more timely than other pictures of women who aren’t skinny. There are no self-delusions here, and it’s bold and striking.