Joanna Black’s Photos Show Us What Ugly Doesn’t Look Like

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Joanna Black, a photographer, entrepreneur and collector in Edinburgh, UK, uses surrealist images to show us what ugly doesn’t look like. Her “Black Teeth White Heart” series is a compilation of Black’s nose, eyes, lips, and even toe nails in a style that is hauntingly beautiful.

In describing “Black Teeth White Heart” Black begins by saying, “people always told me I was ugly.” As a child, Black suffered from an acute form of scoliosis, causing her to live, sleep and play in a waist to neck metal brace. Her brace in addition to blackened teeth, which were caused by a treatment of tetracycline, were devastating. In an artist statement she recalls the pain of being pitied by adults and mocked by her peers. By the age of 13, however, the brace was removed and her teeth corrected and she left behind that “ugly girl.” It seems impossible that Black, now the owner of Miss Bizio, a couture vintage clothing shop in the Stockbridge neighborhood of Edinburgh and partner at Black Appointments Executive Search, could be ugly or pitied. Relatively new to professional photography, Black has already been shown at the Rencontres d’Arles (2015) and the International Photography Awards (2014).

In “Black Teeth White Heart,” Black takes intensely close photos of her body that, while pinpointing her physical idiosyncrasies, leaves you feeling like you are gazing on your beloved. Reminiscent of Dora Maar portraits by Man Ray in the 1930’s, many of her black and white photos capitalize on Black’s ability to be completely at ease in front of the camera while simultaneously executing the shot. Others are developed to include shadows and graininess and, at times, seem to allude to the many x-rays that Black must have undergone throughout her childhood. Her color photos are more playful and sexual, accentuating her mouth and parted lips. Close photos of her staring eye feel more medical than voyeuristic and her toes a reminder of our fragility.

While “Black Teeth White Heart” covers a lot of photographic ground, the core of the piece, an investigation into beauty, comments on the singular perfection of our features.

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