the second face (das zweite Gesicht) by Eike Stratmann 

 

The women who respond to a short online ad “Women sought for art project” are invited by Susanne Junker to come along to a photo shoot in her Shanghai studio. She asks the women to make themselves up – blind. Instead of sitting in front of a mirror, they sit in front of a camera. Without any further instruction or explanation, the women dive into the make-up. They have agreed to be observed during that intimate and private moment of making themselves "beautiful". Clearly, Susanne Junker’s project is no glamorous fashion shoot. Applying the make-up is not a particularly delicate or flattering process. At times it is almost brutal to see how they treat their faces – coating, powdering and painting their skin; pulling, deforming and colouring their lips, lids and lashes.   

The women reveal a great deal about themselves.  Forbidden to check the colours and their handiwork in the mirror, they sit in front of Junker’s camera lens. It takes a certain courage to accept the imperfect, the strange and the ugly. Yet, at the same time, this deviation from the everyday ritual seems to have a surprisingly liberating and inspiring effect on many of the women. They really come out of themselves and it is clear to what extent they associate fantasy, frustration, dislike, convention or freedom with the act of applying make-up.

One woman uses nothing but white cosmetics; another only wants to wear gold make-up. Many of the women reach for the black lipstick and choose unusual and strong colours to apply to their eyelids. They really immerse themselves in the artistic experiment of applying make-up blind. They play with their possibilities and push the boundaries of the activity. And it is all done with great seriousness, concentration and a challenging self-confidence.  There is hardly a silly or embarrassed grin to be seen in any of the photos.

Susanne Junker has long been interested in the issue of how people view their bodies, in beauty and the search for identity. She has herself worked as a model and consequently spent much of her time being made-up. She found it was a process that could often be painful and rough, leading her muse on the fact that the “in-between” moment can be quite ugly. One of the first photos she took was of herself, using a remote shutter release. After a fashion shoot, she stands naked in the shower with mascara running down her cheeks. She found that this reduction to externals that was part of her daily work stood in stark contrast to the profound feelings within her.   

Susanne Junker seeks that vulnerable, intimate moment of transition, the moment of adapting to ideals of beauty. Her volunteer models are not sitting stiff and immobile in order to have their portraits taken. They have come along to put on make-up, and the photographer captures the moment “when something happens”. She is waiting for an unpredictable, unforeseeable moment. For her, it’s all about the expression. Junker’s portraits emanate a spontaneous, free and radical openness and strength. In their uncontrolled imperfection they radiate their own beauty and inimitable aesthetic.   

 

by Eike Stratmann, May 2013 for ART-das Kunstmagazin (for original German text, click the link)