“A Beautiful Body Project for Media” by Jade Beall

In the digital age, along with Photoshop’s prowess, “A Beautiful Body Project For Media” is an indispensable photographic project. We need to see images that highlight the scars of time. These touching images, predominately black and white, modestly deal with what remains from moments that mark a life: stretch marks, love handles, bulges of fat, or sagging breasts.
Jade Beall knows how to underline a rather taboo aspect about pregnancy, that of the profoundly modified body, and touches upon the stigmas of this passage so deeply affecting for a mother. A mother never expresses the distress she feels when her body changes. She’ll always tell you that the pregnancy was a memorable moment in her life. Paying homage to all these women who have a serious ordeal by highlighting them, Jade’s photos are beautiful and discreet; they subtly threat the subject with heartfelt honesty.

Hi Jade, can you tell us about your background in photography?
I started photographing in high school in 1996. I loved developing black and white photographs in the darkroom, it was like magic! I have been pretty much self-taught since then, and over the last 5 years I have found my passion in photographing women and celebrating them just as they are without using photoshop and instead praising the parts which we think are “un-beautiful”- wrinkles, stretch marks, curvy bodies, etc.

When did you begin the “A Beautiful Body Project”?
I began A Beautiful Body Project after I took some self portraits of my own post-birth body which had gained 50 pounds in early 2012 to celebrate the changes my body had just underwent. I posted the self-portraits on my website and women were very taken with that shoot and hundreds asked if I would photograph them, just as they were.

I read that you grew up in a hippie community. Since appearances aren’t one of their top priorities, what was their vision of the body after pregnancy or marked by scars?
I was raised by women who were very loving both towards themselves and each other.  You would never hear women talking about what they ‘hated’ about their bodies or commenting on another women in a negative manner. I was raised to love the myself and honor and respect and see beauty in everything and everyone around me.  The women around me were also nude a lot, so I have always been very comfortable being around nude women, it’s not a big deal for me like it is for a lot of Americans.

You’ve photographed over 1000 models. Did you have the women come into your studio, or did you go to them?
For my project A Beautiful Body I have only photographed a little over 100 women with hopes to photogrpah 1000’s!  Right now, for my first book, I am doing all studio shoots, so they all come to my studio or I make or rent a studio if I am in another city.
Did you shoot this series solely in black and white? Or did you make some color images? (Why the choice of black and white?)
Most of the images in my first book which is focused on the bodies of mothers are in black and white.  There will be color images as well to break it up and to highlight certain women and emotions. I love black and white because I started photography in the black and white darkroom and it simply makes me happy!
Via images, you deal with the reality of the body after pregnancy, which is something often absent for magazines. What perception did these mothers have of their own bodies?
Pregnancy is amazing and mostly we only see the parsing of women who have ‘bounced back’ as beautiful or worthy of being celebrated. I think all women should be celebrated, both those who have bounced back and also those who have been left with drastically different bodies. I hope to empower women with my photographs, but also to unite women and to find freedom from needing to put each other down. ALL bodies are sacred and irreplaceably beautiful.

You also explore another taboo subject: mastectomies. Were you the one who went looking for these models?

I am SO in awe of the beauty of women who have gone through breast cancer and ANY cancer… They are my hero.  I look for women who will model for me but I also have clients who are cancer survivors who hire me to make art of their beautiful bodies.

This project was really accepted by the media and women in general. Do you plan to continue photographing for this series? Or will you let it live it’s own life, so to speak?

My next book is focusing on Embracing Aging. I LOVE photographing women just as they are, untouched and unaltered and I hope I will be blessed to continue to photograph them until the end of my days! My main goal is to inspire women to feel beautiful so that our children will learn through us to be free from thinking they need to be anyone except themselves to be worthy of being beautiful.

It seemed to me that a book about this work was edited using crowd funding. Can you tell us a bit about your experience?

Through over 1000 backers, we raised almost $60,000 via Kickstarter to publish the first volume of A Beautiful Body Project: The Bodies of Mothers.  We were asking for $20,000 and to surpass our goal to tremendously gave me such determination to make the most beautiful and inspirational book I possibly could!
Interview by AB