Strangely Familiar

Guia Besana

2020 - Ongoing

As a photographer, my preferred environment takes place in the world of staged photography, a world that visually transforms, by clues, a real event into an artificial set capable of arousing sensory emotions in the beholder.

Through a modern reinterpretation, Strangely Familiar illustrates the psychological portrait of Julia Pastrana, a woman relentlessly derided and gone down in history as the "bearded lady"; one of the most famous human freaks of the 19th century. Exploited by her husband, she was subject to numerous shows, the most famous: "The Ugliest Woman In The World."

This project's premise is also loosely based on a real-life account in which I was subject to a temporary bells-palsy (paralysis of the nerve that supplies the facial muscles on one side of the face, making a face appear to droop). From this personal situation and new perceptions deriving from people's reactions when staring with embarrassment at my asymmetrical face, my imagination went beyond myself.

Using a silicon mask inspired by Pastrana's appearance, I directed the focus on themes such as stigma, prejudice, voyeurism, and isolation, drawing the viewer into a psychic territory of disturbance.

The idea of a psychological self-portrait embodied by the much more complicated story of Julia Pastrana, bearer of all the above issues, could potentially work as a starting point to raise questions about the discomfort with feelings that confronted me and that are very present in our society. I felt like I was on display and subject to a primitive stare with voyeuristic purposes. That unsettling experience fixes the precise moment in which I visioned the possibility of a photographic narration by metaphorically combining my psychological involvement to the body of Julia Pastrana, transforming that personal experience into a universal one, embracing deeper layers.

Pastrana's story reinforces and challenges the lines between the self and other, human and non-human, ordinary and extraordinary. Such spectacles rely upon suggesting how discursive systems, such as normativity and humanness, intertwine in the social practices that constitute them.

My personal experience acted as the trigger for my deep considerations of human behavior over the centuries and inspired me to shine a light in that darkness, making the concept of opportunity injustice habitable for reflection.

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  • Strangely Familiar - The Fine Line

  • Strangely Familiar - The Sow 1

  • Strangely Familiar - The Closet

  • Strangely Familiar - Strangely Familiar

  • Strangely Familiar - Double Perspective

  • Strangely Familiar - Blind Date

  • Strangely Familiar - Photobooth #1

  • Strangely Familiar - The Missing Piece

  • Strangely Familiar - On Display

  • Strangely Familiar - Eye Wide Open

  • Strangely Familiar - The Show 2

  • Strangely Familiar - Sweet Isolation

  • Strangely Familiar - Layers