Sophie Harris Taylor is a London based photographer. Her series, ‘Slight Wounds’ addresses issue of identity through study of the female form. She says, “our identity shapes and transforms our bodies, and also how our identity is itself shaped and transformed.”
“Slight Wounds channels the paintings of the Renaissance. Their statuesque depictions of bodily perfection in the classical female gods have a simplistic purity as well as a romanticized idealism. They show their subjects as almost inhuman – as mythical immortals.
Stylistically and technically Slight Wounds recreates this, from composition and form to light and colour. However the women depicted are not Gods. They are, to use the vernacular, ‘real women’, with their scars, stretches, bruises and cracks there in detail to be seen by all. The detachment of the sitters’ heads and faces emphasizes this, removing our capacity for relation or empathy, giving us no option but to scrutinize and find beauty in the body as an object. Somehow this also reveals some essence of their character in a way a portrait would only obscure. This raises them above the human – placing imperfections upon an altar and making gods of the truth.”
In Slight Wounds by Sophie Harris Taylor there is a certain depiction of truth in relation to the female body. Seemingly, depictions of if not suffering, then the remembrance of pain through scars are perhaps better considered as a topographical remembrance that the female body retains in ways the mind does not. As Harris Taylor studies the form of the female body, the images seem to suggest that with a corporeal existence comes a certain amount of discomfort but she says, “although, yes pain and suffering is a part of these women’s lives, the project was never intended to be about pain and suffering per se. Rather to examine the physical manifestation of life and experience through our bodies.” Slight Wounds suggests that experience and physical existence relate reciprocally. The body understands experience as does experience understands its physical manifestation and that “our identity shapes and transforms our bodies, and also how our identity is itself shaped and transformed.”
Perhaps most notable, is the hidden faces of the subjects of Slight Wounds. By hiding the faces of her sitters, that which we most often associate with an individual’s identity, Sophie Harris Taylor “wanted to remove the control the subjects had over themselves.” In doing so, she sought to give a voice to their body as form, allowing it to speak to their identity more than what might be conveyed through facial expression. “I tried to retain complete control over their positioning, trying to give some clarity of voice to their bodies.”
Popular culture might not address female identity beyond beauty (or at least not initially). Perhaps it is even unfair to begin with the notion of women in relation to popular culture. Personal identity certainly extends beyond that which is in vogue or of a collective understanding specific to a particular time. But upon closer inspection of these female forms in Slight Wounds we see a fuller story. “I really wasn’t sure at first whether to use the phrase ‘real women’ in my statement for this reason, as it feels very much like a ‘cosmo’ phrase, although ultimately did for lack of a better term. But yes, the work is of course about the inherent beautification of women. It is for these reasons I chose the Renaissance style of portraiture, classically used to present an ideal. And I absolutely wanted to make work which was beautiful. But I almost wanted to go beyond subverting the ideal, and ignore it, what I wanted to present beautifully was the truth.”
Through the study of a subject as specific as a Renaissance style depiction of contemporary female bodies, we can hopefully begin to understand a universal truth. For Sophie Harris Taylor, through her study of the female form in Slight Wounds, much like one might suss through the plot of a movie or novel, she seeks that truth. “What I am looking for,” she says, “is there an inherent human truth to the actions of the protagonists?” How is the identity of the contemporary woman understood? Is it ever since the time of the Renaissance, understood in relation to physical beauty or subject to objectification? Or is it something more nuanced and real? Something more universal. In Slight Wounds, Sophie Harris Taylor’s subjects, lay bare to life experience as remembered on their bodies, become central to the search for that answer.
See more of Sophie Harris Taylor’s series, Slight Wounds here.