How Do You Feel When You See Yourself in a Photo?

For over 20 years, artist Jennifer Bermon has been getting women to look at themselves. Since 1993, Bermon has taken black-and-white photos of women and asked them to write about the way they look in the photo. Twenty-eight of the portraits are up in an exhibition called Her | Self running through April 4 at dnj gallery in Santa Monica. “Her│Self presents body image in a new light,” writes Bermon. “The woman’s photo and her words become one piece that stands on its own, with no editing and filtering.” The collection of photos includes portraits of a NASA scientist, a farmer, and an Academy-Award winning screenwriter, among many others.

Bermon gave us permission to publish several of the photos and stories from the exhibit. A transcript of each written story is underneath each photo. You can also see some of the photos on the project’s Facebook page

I see a woman with questions.  Is it okay to be as strong as I am? As smart as I am? It is okay to know what I know? To become a woman? It is okay to be short, ethnic and over 40 in Hollywood? My belly in this photo grounds me, I appear centered. Yet I wonder.  Will my baby be healthy? Will I ruin him/her with all the mistakes I will make?  I see a woman who is about to laugh or cry, could go either way.  I see a girl ever hopeful, who misses her father. 

I know this woman, but I almost never take time to just look at her, let alone just appreciate her.  When I saw this picture, I initially felt good like I was seeing an old friend, but once I became conscious that I was looking at myself, I immediately felt disappointed with my hair, blemishes on my skin, my weight.  Perhaps I rarely look at myself because I don’t like the way I look.  It makes me sad that I’m so judgmental of myself, because I’m really not that bad.  I’m special. There’s something special about me, and I can see it in my own eyes.  I can see my confidence, my warmth, that comes from the fighting, loving spirit deep within me.   I want that energy to shine first (perhaps it does?).  I wonder what others see when they look at me – what do they see first?  But that’s not the right question, is it? The question is “What can I do so that I see the good in myself first?”

At 35, I feel my place is becoming clearer and easier.  I try to be practical and realistic.  I feel stronger than the 21 year old I was, who thought she knew everything.  My body is decorated to celebrate my life.  The life of my daughter who grew inside of me, the lives of my favorite people who have shaped me into who I am.  I will dye my hair blue or wear glitter lipstick because why not?  If I can be an example, to anyone, to do what makes you happy then that makes me happy.  I am a 5’3” multi-racial, daughter, wife, mother, photographer, crochet enthusiast, dancer, coffee-lover.

The one word that comes to mind is satisfaction.  This is the face and posture of someone who is comfortable and satisfied with her position in life.  I am a NYC firefighter in Engine 58—the best firehouse in the world.  I am the result of many hands molding me into the firefighter I am—especially Lt. Robert Nagel—my hero, my role model.  A man who looked life and death straight in the face, walked the walk and talked the talk.  To have the best job in the best house in the best city in the world—this explains the smile captured here.  It may not always be on my face, but it is always in my heart.  

As I behold this photo for the first time, a smile lights up my face.  There I am, freshly turned 50, doing exactly what I am meant to be doing, sitting with goats reminding the world that the beauty and joy in life is often found in the most simple of endeavors.  I am happy, I am at peace. I remember not to take myself too seriously, but to do what needs to be done.  The goats are my anchor.  What is yours?

It’s difficult for me to identify with my image in photos. I attribute that to a life-long habit of observation, rather than participation. This photo was taken in 2007. I was happy then, the happiest I’d been since the births of my children:  I had managed after eight years of relentlessness to get our screenplay of Brokeback Mountain made into a fine film.  Oliver and Amanda were my sole companions and had brought life into my home, my first dogs in nearly a decade, and a great comfort to me when in the following year, Heath tragically passed away, then my beloved older brother/best friend ended his long battle with cancer.  Since this photo, Ollie and Mandy have been joined by five more orphan dogs; my foster child and young niece Ashley; and Larry and Faye McMurtry.  My home today is very, very “alive.”  And I realize, looking at this photo, that this all began in 2007.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way…. Diana Ossana 2015

Related Reading: An Artist is Covering Washington, DC with Portraits of Congresswomen.


by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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