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It’s not business. It’s personal.

Deciding to make a book of vagina portraits was one thing. It wasn’t until I went out and bought my first digital SLR (2.5 megapixels! which was a big deal in 2000) and some lights (that I still don’t understand) that I was, in fact, all in. That took a month of vacillating between worrying about whether this was what I should be doing with my life, and whether I was actually capable of doing this thing, which so needed to be done, before I was ready. ish.

Actually making personal images like these was something else entirely. For one thing, there is no good way to ask a woman if you can make a portrait of her vagina. Everything that that made me think of, roll my eyes and recoil from, multiplied by every woman’s own experiences.

This was a sensitive subject, and (it can’t be said often enough) different for each woman. The way I saw it, asking a woman to pose for a v-portrait came out like a dare. The opposite of my intention with this work, which was to create a comfortable space where we could see ourselves for ourselves —where we could see, and talk, and think for ourselves. This space didn’t exist yet. I’d have to create a forum for the conversation first. If this was something women wanted to see, then the v-portraits would follow.

The original vaginaverite.com became a forum for vagina conversations. Along with my talking about it, endlessly. Bit by bit, we began making vagina portraits.

At about 30 v-portraits, I began exhibiting. I previewed vagina vérité® on its own, and as part of group show. The exhibitions and events explored a range of themes relating to women’s bodies and how we feel about them and what that means for our quality of life.

The first exhibition, yOur Exhibition, was a solo show that I organized at a bar on the lower east side, named Smithfield, that no longer exists.

It was a preview exhibition just for women. About 130 women attended, and the staff was all female. Most got their first view of other women’s vaginas that night. It was a fun evening, where my mother’s friends got to spend some time in a Lower East Side bar (one commented on the bathrooms being unexpectedly clean); my best friend made cupcakes (way before it was trendy!) and a few women were surprised to find that the v-portraits weren’t large, head-swallowing sized images. One said: “It’s not that scary after all.”

pinvitefront

yOur Exhibition (front of the invite)

One of my favorite moments was at the Smithfield exhibition, the first one. The v-portraits were installed on a wall, and two of my friends happened to be side by side viewing them.

The two weren’t friends themselves exactly, but because of their relationships with me, seeing each other at my birthdays and events, and knowing how I felt about each of them, they had an intimacy-by-association between them.

One of them said to the other “I think that’s me.”

And, the other woman said, “No, it’s not.“

“How do you know?” the first one said.

“Because that’s me!”

I love that. A few of the women who participated told me that they wondered whether they would be able to identify themselves by their v-portrait.

This was the first time the v-portraits were framed and installed on walls, and viewed altogether like that, and—viewed by women who weren’t directly involved in making v-portraits.

pinviteback

yOur Exhibition (back of the invite)

After the exhibition, I could not bring myself box them up to wait for the next one, so I installed them on my living room wall. And, eventually (when the count of v-portraits exceeded 60, 60 being that wall’s v-portrait capacity) I installed v-portraits on all of my living room walls.

For years, my apartment was vagina central.

At no point did I completely stop worrying about it.

Why me?

Originally, I didn’t want to include anything about myself in the project. It’s not about me. Not anymore than it’s about you.

What matters is that we get an opportunity to see ourselves for ourselves. Images make that possible. Images without captions especially. That’s why it needed to be a book of vagina portraits. Close-up, documentary photographs of the everyday vagina in plain view.

This way, you would write the story. In your head, while you’re viewing the vagina portraits. And if you wanted to talk with others about it, you could do that. I’d love for you to do that actually. I just don’t want to tell you what to think. Or how to feel about it. There’s enough of that all around us. Pushing us to conform, by agreeing, or staying quiet.

I just want you to be able to see for yourself.

That normal is diverse.

Images make that possible.

So, when my friend asked me the question, as someone who is often compelled to make images, this was the only way I could answer.

vv card

My card. It’s been in my bag for too long.

 

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Back of the card.

Rebooting the project

I haven’t shot a vagina portrait in years.

vaginaverite.com hasn’t been been updated with a vagina story, or notice of an upcoming exhibition since 2013.

And, until a few months, ago, I had barely glanced at the 6-foot 3-inch compilation of eight vagina portraits arranged in a column one above the other, in custom-made black metal frame, leaning against a wall in my apartment. Unbelievable.

There was a time, years in fact, when there were sixty vagina portraits, hung in five rows of twelve, on the wall above the couch in my living room. Eventually, for the last open-house exhibition, I found a way to fit 93 individually-framed vagina portraits on walls in my living room. So, not being surprised by them was fine for me. Not noticing how amazing and beautiful they were —that’s what needs to be called out.

And, then one day, I leaned back in my chair and stretched, taking an actual break from my laptop, and I saw them.

I made this piece back in 2004 for the “Love Your Tree” photography exhibition at ABC Carpet, that celebrated the debut of Eve Ensler’s play The Good Body. At the time, I named it “Spire”, and today, I’m renaming it “Column” which is what I always called it in my head.

The “Column” is one of the most interesting and beautiful things you will ever see. 

In that instant, it became clear to me that I did not do the project justice.

The printed book is great. It’s the only way to see vagina vérité at the moment. I brought it with me to World Domination Summit 2018 this weekend and shared it with a few women. They all thought it was meaningful, needed —amazing to see how we really are so different.

But it is not anywhere near as good as the Column. For one thing, as a print-on-demand book, it’s too expensive for most of us, and that’s a deal-breaker right there.

So it’s time, to get back to work, and the get this done, as originally intended, and publish the book and share this project widely, so that women can see ourselves for ourselves.

I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I need to do to make that happen. How to get going anyway. For sure there will be more than one fork in the road.

Making the announcement here on vaginaverite.com and re-introducing yOur stories. Getting onstage at WDS2018, and telling the story of the project to 1000 people. Restarting the salon series and generally re-engaging with the community to co-create what this work is about…these are my first steps, and this time I won’t stop until we get there. See what you think. I’d love to hear about it.

Feel free to ask questions and share ideas any time.

—Alex

How it started

One day, out of the blue, a friend of mine asked me if I liked the way my vagina looked. We were meeting for drinks after work, and on hello, before my butt hit the bar stool, she asked me: Do you like the way your vagina looks? I think this was sometime in August of 2000.

Even before I answered, I already knew that she thought there was something wrong with hers. That it wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. And, that there was nothing I could say, as her friend, who would, of course, always be reassuring –that would convince here that she was normal.

Maddening. This just made me so mad.

So, I decided, or the moment, her question, decided for me: that if there wasn’t already one out there, that I would shoot a book. The reference we women, my friend, deserved. I drew the shot I wanted to see on a post-it, and told her that the title of the book would be vagina vérité, like cinéma vérité: French for documentary film. I knew exactly how the book should be, what the answer to her question was.

And, while I didn’t have a clue how I would do it, I was all in: the unabashed exploration of the plain, ordinary, mysterious matter of vaginas.

10 years, 111 v-portraits.