Julia Kozerski is a photographer who explores themes of beauty, body-image, and identity. As you can see in the image above, she makes photographs that are starkly beautiful and brutally honest; pictures that can make the viewer feel painfully uncomfortable. Here, a fleshy woman lies naked on a bed in a gray room, her gaze turned toward letters on the wall. It is daytime. She is alone. The sheets are rumpled. The word is "LOVE." The title of the work is "Hunger." And that is Julia Kozerski, in the photograph. She is her own subject.
In a project titled Half, Kozerski documents the results of dramatic weight loss. The photographs are stunning, in the true sense of the word: Causing or capable of causing emotional shock. We are flooded with media messages and images about losing weight: PSA campaigns, sneaker ads, reality shows, before and after commercials, in which celebs beam with joy in photos proving that they've slimmed down. They're often perfectly toned, in a bikini, grinning ear to ear.
Julia Kozerski's artwork is very, very different. She faces the camera not with a smile, but with a steady, open, challenging gaze. Sometimes there are tears in her eyes. Sometimes she doesn't face the camera at all. The names of the photographs add to the disquiet and melancholy.
(NSFW nudes ahead.)
Hunger, by Julia Kozerski. Used with permission.
If you consume media in this day and age, you will see a lot of female flesh. Mostly-naked Victoria's Secret models are in commercials and catalogs. Men's magazines strip starlets down for sexually-charged cover shoots. There's nude fashion photography in fashion mags, nude actresses on cable television series, naked women in R-rated movies. The women are almost always svelte, toned, gravity-defying. Nothing sags, nothing ripples, the flesh does not even seem to have pores. We're not accustomed to seeing documentation of this sort: A woman's body photographed not for the male gaze, not Photoshopped and airbrushed and rendered perfect so as to be more easily digested by the public.
Untitled, by Julia Kozerski. Used with permission
Kozerski's body is not some rare, uncommon form — there are probably millions of women whose physiques are closer to hers than to that of Gisele Bundchen. But it is rare to see images like this: Vivid, unflinching illustrations of stretchmarks, of breasts that are not perfectly rounded and buoyant. (Imagine if little girls saw bodies like this as often as they saw the so-called "perfect" bodies of models and celebrities.)
Affront, by Julia Kozerski. Used with permission.
Weight-loss ads and articles will often crow about clothes: Drop two sizes! Get back into your skinny jeans! But what's left out, never addressed, is what's underneath. What if you lose weight and your body still doesn't look like a Star magazine "best bikini body." What if you can fit into skinny jeans but you're still not happy?
Kozerski has another project, Changing Room, in which she documents her weight loss in various dressing room mirrors while trying on clothes. On the surface, it's a timeline of her shrinking frame. But you have to question what is "changing" in those rooms, in those photographs? Is she changing? Is she a different person? Is she the same person, only thinner? Does changing your body change your attitude, your outlook, your personality?
This photograph is titled "Casing No. 1." Casing. As in sausage casing? As in the thin exterior shell that wraps around our soul, the essence of who we are. Is your body who you are, or is it just the casing, the wrapper for your true self?
Casing No. 1, by Julia Kozerski. Used with permission.
Here is the Artist Statement Kozerski wrote about Half:
We all have at least one attribute about ourselves that causes us to be self conscious; something that causes us to feel as if we are not "normal." For myself and countless others, our weight is a constant source of such insecurity. By the time I had reached the age of 25, I tipped the scales at 338 pounds. With a body mass index (BMI) of 49.9 percent, literally half of my body consisted of fat, and I was classified as "morbidly obese." Throughout childhood and adolescence, my weight led me through spells of depression caused by associated physical and emotional issues. For so long, I wished nothing more than to physically be someone other than myself believing that doing so would make me happier.
In December 2009 I decided to take charge of my life and embarked upon my own self-directed, healthy-living journey. Through calorie counting, focus on nutrition, portion control, and increased exercise, my efforts have resulted in a loss of over 160 pounds. While I genuinely believed that my hard work and dedication would transform me into that "perfect" person of my dreams, the reality of what has resulted is quite the opposite. My experience contradicts what the media tends to portray. While it is easy to celebrate and appreciate the dramatic physical results of such an endeavor, underneath the layers of clothing and behind closed doors, quite a different reality exists.
These photographs are self-portraits. They serve as reflections of my experience and address and explore my physically and emotionally painful, private struggles with food, obsession, self-control, and self-image. These brutally honest images shed light on the truth of what it is like for me to live life as Half of myself.
The best art is timeless, thought-provoking and memorable, and Kozerski's work is all three.
For more, visit JuliaKozerski.com.
Own, by Julia Kozerski. Used with permission.