Category Archives: v-portrait exhibitions

A friend telling me why she didn't attend the exhibition.

It’s still so much about what they think

 “I wanted to go, I really did… I was with my boyfriend that weekend and with all the vaginas on display, I would be embarrassed if he spotted mine and knew I posed!”

A friend asked me the question that gave birth to vagina vérité (do you like the way your vagina looks?) during the summer of 2000. I shot my first vagina portrait that September. Documentary-style photographs, just a little larger than life—for women, so we could see ourselves for ourselves.

Over the course of ten years, I made over 100 vagina portraits. The women who posed may, or may not, have been comfortable with their bodies, or with being seen. They range in age and lifestyle, and relationship with their vaginas. The only thing they have in common is trusting me with their v-portraits.

All along, I kept thinking that maybe I didn’t really need to do this. Each time I saw that The Vagina Monologues was being performed or that the word “vagina” was showing up on tv, I thought these were signs of the end of a chapter, that we were good, we had space for our bodies and our stories. It’s amazing how I could take such small moments (important moments, but still just moments) and extrapolate out what I wanted to be true. That we had sovereignty over our bodies, that it was our view that mattered. That we would trust ourselves first. Before anyone else’s idea (or what we think they think), that we were trusting ourselves before any claim about how we should be, as womxn, having a body.

“I wanted to go, I really did… I was with my boyfriend that weekend and with all the vaginas on display, I would be embarrassed if he spotted mine and knew I posed!”

The exhibition she didn’t attend was on 08-Dec-2018, titled Normal Is Diverse. You can read some of the thoughts of some of the womxn and mxn who attended here.

Normal Is Diverse

Something that should just be normal.

Something that should just be normal.

It’s so important that people see these + that women start to unlearn all the shame that we’ve been taught. It amazes me that in our culture the female body is so over exposed / sexualized + yet vaginas are so taboo + shocking. I think so many women feel disconnected from this part of our bodies + try to avoid or ignore or wish away something that should just be normal. I feel so lucky to see this exhibit. Thank you.” —IRL post from Saturday’s exhibition: Normal Is Diverse, NYC.

It’s not just that we don’t expect diversity among our bodies. It’s that it’s not normal to get to see womxn’s bodies as we are. Ourselves. Not as object. As being.

There is no right way to look.

A man at the exhibition told me that this exhibition was just for women because men seeing this wouldn’t want to have sex again, because it isn’t attractive. I couldn’t begin to reply. I waited to see if he could hear himself claiming vaginas for men like that. His wife was standing next to him. I waited. He pointed out that I did say that I wanted to hear people’s thoughts. (I do.) I was only able to point out that he can speak for himself, but probably not for all men. I was winding down by then. I kind of had cruise control on, enjoying that people were looking, and talking with each other. I didn’t have it in me to cross a gap that wide. My mind was racing reacting. I am standing right in front of you. There are mainly women standing in front of the vagina portraits you’re pointing at. And, still, when you look, you only see a body part, an object for some man’s use?

I know. I know. I need to be more prepared for the conversations I want to have. Most of my training (when not totally avoiding or hanging behind my camera) is in growling an incoherent rant and stomping off though. Often that all happens in my head. I have a lot of work to do.

Image of the Normal Is Diverse exhibition of vagina vérité, Saturday, 08-Dec-2018, at Lower East Side, NYC.

Normal is diverse.

Normal is diverse.

I am only beginning to understand it. I can’t say I actually live that truth on a broad scale in my life, as if it was natural. Though it is. natural. I get that we’re all different, each unique. Even so, I keep expecting something familiar, or more like me, or like what I want, believe I need, or would just be easy, or at least easier. I’m thinking about more than vaginas now. And more than about appearance, but appearance is where we usually begin. And, often it’s where we stay.

When I say I’m only beginning. to understand it, it’s because it runs deep, deep inside us. These assumptions about ourselves and each other. They’re hard to get at: often so familiar that we don’t recognize that we are complicit in maintaining mean fictions. Even when they work against us.  

The hierarchies of power and entitlements that follow from these ideas go against what is plainly apparent. when you just look: that normal is diverse. There is no one right way to be.

But still we keep expecting sameness, judging and demeaning anything other than the stereotype in the media, in our minds, that our families, schools and neighbors told us was the way to be. This stuff runs deep, the right way/wrong way us-and-them view of the world is so old it’s almost invisible. It’s the basis of so much of what we each believe matters, think is true, is to be feared, hated and avoided. So you can’t always tell when you’re part of the problem. Even if you’ve been hurt.

Normal is diverse. We have to keep looking. To see what is. Stop thinking you know. Just look. In the mirror, and at each other. What do you see?

Beastie Boys mural by Danielle Mastrion on Ludlow Street, at Rivington

Day after releasing “normal is diverse”

I spent the day after the exhibition, yesterday, in zombie slow-motion mode, wandering around some, and I haven’t really begun to absorb the experience. All of this hindered by the mind-numbingly bad smell of the cleaning solution the studio used, that many places are using, is this a conspiracy? My apartment is filled with the smell because it got into the boards backing the images and the papers used by viewers to post their thoughts IRL. I’m told by a friend who’s banned the stuff from her business that it’s called Fabuloso. It’s really bad. Why do people think this smell = clean?

So, I’ll be unpacking my mind bit by bit. It was, otherwise, such a good night. For me, for the work, the release of “normal is diverse”. For us. Because this really is about us, and making space to look at ourselves, this important aspect of ourselves, and reflect, discuss, not be alone with how we see ourselves in relation to others. How we compare ourselves as if we are the sum of our parts. And why. Why do we compare?

Just wanted to share one thought today, from vagina vérité viewers:

“Thank you! I never knew I needed this until I came!”

Thank you back! I want to thank everyone who came and who wrote down their thoughts to share with everyone else, attending normal is diverse, and who will attend future exhibitions. I kicked off our posting space with thoughts from attendees of early exhibitions. Looking forward to the next one and including Saturday’s IRL posts there.

Gabrielle helping me install over 100 vagina portraits.

How does one install 110 vagina portraits?

How does one install 110 vagina portraits? With a laser level, good hair and nails c/o of @havenspanyc aka your best friend and partner in loao (laughing our asses off)!

I’m behind the lens with the upcoming hair date at Haven.

It’s the morning after my first exhibition of vagina vérité in ages and apparently there is no emoji for how full of :lovegratitude: I feel for everyone who had a hand, heart and mind in making it happen with me. Friends and contributors to the project, going back to the beginning (2000!) and at many stops on the way. Artists, performers, speakers and crew of both Vagina Festivals, my unofficial, always has my back staff for all things vagina vérité friends (Marla, Pfunk, Gab) and family (especially my parents!), vagina portrait models, supporters, word-spreaders and believers in diversity as a normal state (not to mention the female body and all it does, on its self-sovereign terms, as a normal state—and a human right). In attendance last night IRL or in spirit.

This is how it’s done, the beautiful meaningful things: always with the help of many. I wish I could name everyone! Each of us a one. to be counted one by one. Not sorted into types and categories and groups of what you think you know about anyone who is not you. Or not like you. No one is like you. Enjoy the beauty of that. Respect everyone else’s right to the same. Expect diversity. It’s normal.

We all have a lot of rethinking to do.

Insert the :lovegratitude: emoji that doesn’t exist yet, but really should. (I canNOT do giphs. We can’t even talk about it, ok?)

The view in progress.

Instructions for viewing

Normal is diverse. There is no right way to look.

We are individuals after all. Not interchangeable in any respect. You don’t have my experiences behind you, nor do I have your family, or you my ideas, not my stories, triumphs, pains or dreams. You have yours and I have mine. And, most certainly, your body is not mine, and mine is not yours.

If I was to try to replace your anything with mine, you wouldn’t like it.

Yet we expect.

We compare against idealized versions, retouched photography, and a small set of examples that show up over and over in our super-sorted world of likes and targeted advertising. These have become the model for how we are to live and to look. Especially to look.

…Normal is diverse.

It’s inarguably the case that normal is diverse. There is no other way. And yet, we do not. expect. diversity. We duck it, think it difficult, find it wrong, or the cause of problems. It’s not worth our time, empathy or curiosity. When know it when we see it, even from a distance, and we go quickly back to the repeated familiar. We don’t expect diversity as the norm.

On Saturday, from 4-8pm, at Ludlow Studios, NYC, we’ll have the unusual opportunity to see 110 vagina portraits, and to see for ourselves that normal is diverse. Also, to share our individual thoughts, by writing them and dropping them in box, from which a volunteer will later pull them out and add them to our wall. The portraits will be on one side of the room and our words on the other, and we will be in the middle seeing what we see. No pressure to talk or reveal yourself, though talking is welcomed and encouraged.

Instructions for viewing

    • This is a space where our bodies are OUR BODIES, and it’s safe for womxn to reflect on themselves and each other.
    • Diversity is understood as normal, even if we’re not used to it.
    • Compassion, empathy and curiosity are expected.
      • We will each show up with our individual stories, experiences, expectations and comfort level with ourselves and with others, and this may change during the exhibition.
    • Respect for each other is required.

I am so looking forward to seeing you.

If you have not yet RSVP’d, please do so here. It’s free, but space is limited.