What's wrong with that

Written article by Elsa Wickes

Vera Comploj is an Italian photographer and director based in New York whose artistic roots in the art stemmed from her childhood. “I was always in touch with photography and film,” she explains, as her father “always documented everything we were doing,” instilling in her a comfort with the lens and a desire to document the world.

This background laid the foundation for her new series, WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT, which explores the representation of beauty through different stages of a woman’s life, examining how age influences beauty both physically and emotionally. The series began organically through conversations with her mother-in-law: “I had been talking with her about the project and I was just like, ‘let’s just sit down and… take some pictures.’” These images, along with the accompanying film, capture beauty in its most organic forms – putting lipstick on without a mirror, twiddling thumbs. These moments reflect the relaxed, intimate ease found in the connection between photographer and subject.

Comploj’s definition of beauty is clear: “I’m drawn to something that I can feel in a person maybe I sense the beauty in imperfection and I just want to celebrate it.” Her work rejects conventional standards, embracing the imperfections that make each woman unique. These imperfections, often not reflected in societal standards of beauty, are what she celebrates. Comploj notes how the unrealistic and unattainable expectations of beauty that are imposed upon women in today’s society are negatively impacting women’s self-image: “even if you know exactly that it’s all very much fake… there are a lot of filters on it, there is retouching… [and] that it’s not real… you still take it personally anyway.”

Physical changes that women experience are a core theme in WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT. “[During adolescence] your body’s changing so much and you want to fit so badly into the stereotypes… And then suddenly you grow out of it and then you start really to want, especially for me, I want to be unique.” This cycle of confidence, self-doubt and rediscovery is central to womanhood and is presented as such in this series.

Comploj celebrates every imperfection and is particularly interested in “the history of everybody’s skin… and how skin can talk to you.” Our skin connects us to our ancestors, our story; it is “a ceremony of you who you are and where you’re coming from.” Beauty lies not in erasing the signs of ageing but in embracing them.

The series sends a powerful message, granting women “the permission to be different.” Comploj emphasises, “we all have insecurities and we try to be strong.” By capturing a diverse array of people and sharing the stories of their skin. Comploj hopes the viewer will “see that there is beauty in the differences… and you just need to be there for it because we are all different and unique.”

Ultimately, WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT is about empowerment: “I think my end goal is really to be there for my subject. It’s to help them go through this moment, so they celebrate themselves and make them feel special.” This connection between the photographer and her subject is evident; the series is a testament to the strength and beauty of women at every stage of their lives.

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