Two-sided project puts beauty into focus

Christine Redmond, In Real Life

Where: Xchanges Gallery

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When: Runs until April 29. Gallery open Saturdays and Sundays only, noon to 4 p.m.

In one photo, Theresa slouches slightly in a Sex Pistols T-shirt and red shorts, her black-and-red hair free at her shoulders, with a huge grin on her face and her gaze pointed to the side.

In the next, she has transformed. With perfect makeup, carefully styled hair and arms crossed at her chest, she faces the camera with a different kind of confidence - more determined, but less relaxed.

Theresa is one of about 30 subjects who responded to photographer Christine Redmond's ad on Craigslist, calling for models of all shapes and sizes to participate in her project.

Redmond asked each model to pose twice: once in her "home clothes" and again in the outfit that made her feel most attractive.

The result is In Real Life, showing at Xchanges Gallery through April 29.

The commentary on body image fits the trend of social activism in the 24year-old Irish photographer's work. Another of her photo projects was featured on animal activist group PETA's website.

"Most of the time it's not intentional - it's the way it develops," Redmond said of the activist slant. "But, yeah, it's definitely a theme that seems to be recurring."

Redmond grew up in Wexford, Ireland, and graduated from the Dublin Institute of Technology in 2010, where her thesis focused on the influence of social-media sites on photography. She found many teenagers were using the site Bebo.com to post photos of themselves scantily clad.

"I thought it was really interesting how they used social-media platforms to perform," Redmond said.

That was the starting point for In Real Life.

After graduating, she lived in Victoria for a year, and, last July, she moved to Vancouver. When she posted the Craigslist ad vaguely describing her project, she was overwhelmed with responses.

"I probably received at least 100 in the first two weeks," she said.

Another surprise was the diversity in the group, as well as their candour - within half an hour, they'd open up and tell their life stories. "The commonality between them all was that when they did pose for me, and we got talking about body image, a lot of them were unhappy or expressed things they'd like to change about themselves," she said.

When it came time to change into their "attractive" outfits, some people didn't change at all. Others took a long time. One girl spent an hour and a half in Redmond's bathroom - she had trouble putting on her false eyelashes. Another brought hot rollers for her hair.

Redmond, struck by the women's typically low body images, issued a 10-question survey following the photo shoots.

There were 57 respondents - mostly her models, but also friends and followers of her blog.

"The 10th question probably got the most interesting responses: Do you feel your body type is represented in the media?" she said. "Mostly it was all 'no's' but some people went into more detail."

Some sample answers:

? "The only place I see my body type as being represented in the media is in a WeightWatchers [or] Jenny Craig commercial, of all the body types that you are not trying to be. I spend most of my life looking at media and seeing diet plans in these ads, and I've always felt I need to lose weight."

? "Definitely not. As a trans woman, there is nobody I can relate to in the media. Even the attempts at queer representation are confined to narrow categorization by the media. If there is ever a representation of a trans person, they are almost always a trans woman and hyper-feminine or desperate to achieve hyper-femininity."

? "Hell no. Even what they call a plus-size model is far from a true plus size. - Any time a larger person is represented on a TV show, they are usually the butt of a joke and the only reason they are fat is because they eat. I have a friend with a metabolic disorder in which, no matter what, she can't lose weight."

Other questions included: How often do you wear make-up? When do you feel most attractive? When do you feel least attractive? And, what does beauty mean to you?

Redmond said respondents usually related beauty to confidence, energy and attitude.

Beauty is not caring what other people think of how you look, but how happy you are in your own skin, one wrote.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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