Notions of Beauty


Hasselblad 503CW camera with Hasselblad 50mm f4 FEL T lens and Kodak Portra 160VC film Hasselblad 503CW camera with Hasselblad 50mm f4 Distagon FEL T lens and Kodak Portra 160VC film

Here's one of four environmental portraits I made on Christmas morning, 2000 in a small town on the edge of the beautiful Inle Lake, Myanmar. This lovely old lady was a joy to photograph. She only had one remaining tooth and a face that bore the signs of experience. In the relatively short period of time I had available to me I photographed her in numerous ways, close up and full length. I have a pretty good image of her standing, leaning on her staff for support, yet projecting a strength of personality. However, it's the above image that's my favorite. It's packed full of information and, when deconstructed, provides layers of meaning that invite interpretation.

What does the empty chair in the background signify or suggest? Is her partner dead? Perhaps he's in the next room making a cuppa. The fact is we all bring meaning to images. We all construct and determine our own truth.

The dear lady photographed is a Buddhist and the food on the right side of the picture has been placed on the household shrine. We can assume she is devout yet, in the same room as  the shrine, the wall behind her is decorated with a series of posters: the top ones feature formal portraits of  buddhist monks while the bottom series feature young Burmese models in, by western standards, quite quaint feminine poses. The room is filled with metaphor and meaning. The girls display a stereotypical beauty and a demure confidence while, to my eyes at least, our subject projects a wisdom and self assuredness, most likely hard earned. From my point of view the whole scene is rich with content that, when packed together, challenges our perception of context.

The privileges I was awarded on that day make it particularly special in my memory. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be alive and to be allowed into the lives of such wonderful people. I felt proud to call myself a photographer. I recognized the value of the camera, as a passport into the lives of others, and began to identify my own life's purpose, to document and celebrate those lives.    

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Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography
Glenn Guy