Beauty. It’s a big brassy world. It’s a 53.7 billion dollar world and it’s a world which is extensively and cross-culturally explored by Zed Nelson in his latest exhibition Love Me.
This investigation presents a somewhat thought provoking and challenging examination of youth and beauty; the power of commercial forces who paint an idealised image of ‘physical perfection’ leaving societies to preen, sculpt and starve their way to achieving it.
Nelson presents the idea that an increasingly limited beauty ideal is shipping its way around the globe one billboard, glossy mag and cosmetic counter at a time. It is becoming universally accepted. And with this, men and women and teens, are undergoing a myriad of unnatural processes in order to obtain a prescribed package of natural beauty and youth.
In order to formulate his ideas, the multi-award winning documentary photographer has spanned his research across a period of five years, 18 countries and five continents exploring what he considers to be a new form of globalisation. Images of cosmetic surgeons, housewives and body builders provide a narrative which tells of the extents people from all parts of the world are willing to go to in order to become so much more than “aesthetically average”. These people are in most cases trying to be fitter, thinner, taller or tighter and in all cases they are trying to become what is considered beautiful. For some it requires Barbie-esque body parts and smooth skin. For others, a well sculpted nose or tiny toes. Bone hugging skin appears to be a must in order to encapsulate the heavily branded boxed-beauty ideal.
Whilst his subjects appear to be willing and at times proud participants, Nelson’s exhibition suggests that they may also be seen as innocent prey at the mercy of societies bid for conveyer belt beauties. His work depicts an Iranian mother alongside her 19 year old daughter whose face is bandaged from forehead to mouth following a nose job; their country, it would seem, has the highest rate of rhinoplasty in the world. Next, a New York woman who has undergone cosmetic surgery in the shape of toe shortening – depleting her digits for the sole purpose of wearing designer Jimmy Choo shoes more easily. We see body builders formed from nothing but spirograph-like circles of muscle whilst in other images the ruler-straight line of bone is all that protrudes.
Nelson’s project forms it’s own juxtapositions. Young faces on old bodies, teenagers in adult garb, female prisoners in beauty queen crowns; synthetic intervention to create supposedly natural outcomes. Hair removed, rods put in. Fat removed, silicone put in, it would seem that now on a much wider scale people have things that they are keen to either ‘delete’ or ‘enter’ in a quest to fit a beauty ideal.
The touring exhibition is divided between the two neighbouring galleries.
Words: Kaye Patrick