Document Type


Publication Date





Elaine Rutherford


Mass media has notoriously censored certain bodies, warping public views of what is acceptable versus what needs fixing. My work is motivated by body image and embracing aspects of unconventional beauty, such as cellulite, stretch marks, and fat rolls that are underrepresented yet oh-so-common. I believe the male gaze and advertising have instilled harmful misconceptions that there’s a right way to have a body; I aim to neutralize internalized shame and provoke curiosity about where our ideas of beauty stem from.

Using 19th-century methods like film and cyanotype, I capture the serenity between body and nature. Handmade photography rewards with serendipitous exposures and watermarks—I welcome these raw qualities to evoke truth, as inspired by Sally Mann’s “Angels of Uncertainty” and how she favors spontaneous impurities from analog media. After developing and scanning, I digitally collage self-portraits with nature to create internalized landscapes that mimic human form. To exhibit my complex journey toward self-appreciation, I contrast the emotive intensity of black and white film with gentler qualities from mixed-media cyanotypes. For instance, my piece Willowing playfully stitches twine and reflective threads to form a budding tree silhouette, alluding to personal growth and resilience.

In portraying the body, woodland elements like trees are crucial, for they spotlight “imperfectly perfect” resemblances (e.g. skin folds and branches, stretchmarks and bark textures, belly buttons and tree hollows). Such work is self-referential from my experience as a fat woman and longing to find worthiness in my vessel of flesh after years of societal and self-scrutiny. I perceive nature as a shameless escape, for its hills and plants lack judging eyes but rather extend graceful energies. In my exploration of unconventional beauty, the body and nature serve as a paradox: Why does admiration for nature’s physical quirks come easily yet is sparse for our individualized differences?

Included in

Photography Commons