Susanne Junker and Identity by Chris Gill
Identity is the personal and common quest to find who we are. To lose your identity is a frightening thing. Each and every one of us has a complex identity defined by numerous and often hidden factors. How we portray our identity to others and ourselves is an important part of everyday life. For the project ID-Identity, Susanne Junker has undertaken an ongoing photographic journey documenting peoples process in their reaction, behaviour and feeling in their definition of their own identity. The original idea was embarked on in 2006, with the intention to portray women while they ‘making-up’, but without the assistance of a mirror. The process takes place in front of Junker’s camera.
The voluntary participants are invited into a situation whereby they lose their normal control of an everyday process where they define their usual self, and perhaps their own concept of their own beauty. This loss of self control encourages the participants to express, a perhaps unknown, other facet of their identity, which is illustrated by their reaction. Some respond as automatic broken robots, trying to replicate their daily process, ‘mimicking’ their daily routines. For others the subconscious is exposed by their choice of colours and the order in which they use their make-up products. Some reveal a playful hidden self, some a darker aspect to themselves, others try to retain the traditional notions of femininity, while others revel in the opposite. By the simple idea to remove the mirror from the process of applying make-up, the project has brought to light a wide and varied unseen side to female identity.
Applying make-up blindly leads to accidents that are unheard of in the make-up industry. Eyeliner must be positioned above eye lashes the advertising for these products tell us. ID-Identity shows eyeliners being positioned in a crooked or traditionally incorrect way and is often used as a kind of crude pen by participants to draw all over their own faces. Society understands this as imperfection, but ID-Identity shows self confident women who are willing to illustrate another side that lies beneath the veneer of make-up. Removing the mirror in Junker’s view takes away the constraints of the participants current self-perception of beauty, predominantly the one projected to them by the cosmetics industry. The participants follow their own instincts and experiment with their unseen and uncontrolled look, that for Junker triggers the recurrent question: ‘what is beautiful?’
Practicing observation of herself since early childhood, Junker has used her own body as a canvas for interpretation of social themes and female behaviour and turned around her meiotic exposure to firstly break the preconception of her then current job as a model and her own struggle with what she describes as ‘24/7 demanded perfection’. Positioning herself as both subject and author in her first works that she started with a question mark: supermodels ? (1997).
To grow her perception of struggle and existence she warped the projections of the fashion world that used her. Reflecting on her early life in a business where being judged only by the outer shell enhanced the questions she stuck on her body. Junker says: ‘these are not fictional questions’! Questions such as ‘plastic surgery’, ‘sucking’, ‘smile’, ‘anorexia’ and ‘playboys’, she confronted those questions very forcefully, most notably in Figure For The Base Of A Crucifixion #2 (1998).
Integrating her model images back into her work, such as with Elle #3 (1999), permitted her to close a chapter of her life where false portrayal of identity prevailed. This process led her to create a ‘sarcastic ÜBER pin-up’ cartoon like self-portrait The perfect woman is a lie (2006).
Fascination of human facial transformation and studies such as her portrait Referenz #4 (2006), led to the disappearance of her own self in Interview #2 (2006), till the creation of her own blow up sex-doll, self-doll (2011).
In her ID-Identity work she is exploring the current notions of make-up in different societies. Junker is opening a door to question femininity and the aesthetics of femininity. Her own roots in the fashion industry have long influenced her to pick apart that industry of which she was once a player.
With her inside knowledge of what happens behind the façade her work often attempts to lay out the raw, more genuine side of the female persona, usually hidden by the mass application of make-up and accessories. Those intimate moments captured by Junker, who sits silently opposite the participants behind her camera, she believes she turns into an ‘invisible mirror’. She believes she ‘witness’ the transformation of the unvarnished face into a self-portrait of colors of each individual’s soul that leads to real faces with genuine expressions that are captured within the participants movements. Junker hopes that she is reinventing classical portrait photography (note, the process uses photography, not video). Junker’s project celebrates an honest portrayal of our times, while allowing the participants a wide space for self-expression.
In our digital age, un-retouched photography is increasingly rare. The participants show a unique kind of bravery, by not being afraid of perceptions of ‘failed beauty’. Each participant has the boldness to display what Junker calls ‘the airbrushed eyes of society’ understands as imperfection. Photographs to date have included participants in Asia and Europe, both in urban and rural environments. When the viewer approaches the portraits many questions come to mind, - who is this person? Where are they from? What is their gender? What is their sexual orientation? What is their age? And what is ugliness? What is beauty? These are intrinsic questions the portraits in this project ask, are we attracted to this, do we dislike it and when, why, do we find it disturbing?
For Junker herself, the project participants, and viewers are all challenged to re-appraise what is this very basic truth by which we identify ourselves and others? Identity is a very subtle formula by which human beings define themselves, and this work peels back the layers, so as we look at the photographs we are also looking at ourselves.
Chris Gill 2014