‘the quest for beauty’
Evelyn Nesbit (1884-1967)
So…is beauty a product of fashion and of its time? Perhaps as Plato suggests…it is immortal. Does not fade or change with ‘taste’.
Since the advent of photography, likenesses and illustrations are more objective so in contrast with say, a painting or sculpture. These are created to please those who commissioned them but until the advent of photography that is all we had. Photography removed abstraction and interpretation…at least in ‘recording’ sense. What the camera records is a faithful record of the scene being photographed.
We are at a unique point in history, what went before c.1840 is only recorded in art, literature and history. Today we can look objectively at ‘people’ frozen in time, as they really look. I accept pre-1900 in monochrome and with orthochromatic distortion but in essence, much the way they really looked.
I took the case of Evelyn Nesbit, reputedly the world’s first ‘Supermodel’ the ‘IT’ girl and the American Eve (c1900). Photography brought her face to every type of product. Cigarette cards, soap, biscuit tins, postcards…the list just goes on. And here we have it, her beauty, as recorded, at the time.
Evelyn, the first true ‘supermodel’, and described as ‘American Eve’. Born as photography gave the first opportunity to objectively record ourselves. The ‘face’, as a commodity an asset and a universal symbol.
It also bequeathed an immortality.
My question has the opportunity to be answered.
‘Do we have a template of beauty hard wired or is it subjective or transient? Is it a construct of taste and fashion, or an undefinable fixed quality?’
I decided to make a mask based on the photos I have of Evelyn, then perhaps I can follow the study further. I want to see if a series of paintings made from this mask will still contain the elements of her beauty. Rather than just reproduce copies of old photographs…sadly all in B&W, I want to explore the contours, characteristics and geometry of her face.
I believe ‘beauty’ to be hard-wired template. One to which we compared images instinctively. I don’t believe beauty is a construct of taste of fashion.
If we do compare all against our ideal…do we all share the same template? Does the face’s movement effect our opinion or is strictly geometry?
One thing I am sure of is it doesn’t have a lot to do with symmetry. Evelyn’s face isn’t symmetrical, and in keeping with many other beautiful women I have studied: a slightly closed left eye is most common. Whether that has an influence…I haven’t decided but it certainly is common.
So this series of images, once completed are an experiment, a chance to study how others view them. Is she still beautiful over a century later? 2014
I wear a mask to hide me,
To give you what you want.
We are the phoney image makers,
I’ll fulfill my dreams if I choose well,
You too can find love…they said.
Is anybody real…just asking?
Between worlds, perhaps many are always present.