Growing up poor in the American south made introspection a natural subject. Today, Christian Freet is developing the connection between personality and his past in Louisiana, condensing recent self-awareness into imagery and literature.
Throughout development of her photographic interests in self-portraiture, lifestyle photography, and documentary photography, Myesha Callahan Freet has focused on the deeply personal, deriving from her mischaracterization by those around her.
In its physical presentation You'd Look Better With A Smile is a collection of nearly one hundred three-foot by four-foot paper portraits, but its concept and community go far beyond the photographs.
We all have a similar story, so capturing the unique experience and emotion of other womxn is key to the project. Over ninety people have participated in workshops and group discussions to complete their portrait using life experience and charcoal applied to large-scale prints on simple paper — a medium chosen to embrace the messy, imperfect nature of real life.
This project is a vehicle facilitating our similar, yet potentially unspoken experiences. To complete their portraits, participants are given a safe space to visually explore themselves in the unusually large format while contemplating their reaction to the phrase, "you'd look better with a smile." The time and space during the workshop helps participants to embrace what others may see within themselves as imperfections, and provides each with a moment to reflect on their portrait in a surprisingly emotional way.
The charcoal application [to my portrait] was an act of aggression. I do not care for unsolicited advice, and I do not think it’s normal for others to comment on me... [While finishing it,] I thought about a time I was running when someone shouted to me that I should smile, all the times I'm deep in thought and someone decided I'm in a bad mood because of the look on my face.
Logistics are key for such a large-scale project. Each round begins with reservations for up to one hundred participants, resulting in about fifty completed portraits.
After all portraits are photographed, standard paper prints are made by digital inkjet and mounted to 36x48 inch poster board. Then, final participants return to conduct a workshop, where they take part in voluntary group discussion and complete their portrait by sketching on the print with charcoal. The sketch is an integral part of the project — only basic restrictions against numbers and words are requested for its content.
The collection comprises nearly one hundred three-foot by four-foot portraits. Due to the volume, venues for its showing are selected based on the capacity to contain these very large printed images, which CallahanFreet curates to emphasize the viewer's relationship with each subject.
- Inlander Magazine link, via issuu.com
- Nspire Magazine link
- The Spokane Spokesman-Review link
- Art Hour KYRS, Spokane WA
- The Coeur D’Alene/Post Falls Press Publication in Coeur D'Alene ID
- Terrain 11 Spokane WA
- Jacklin Arts and Cultural Center Women's History Month, Post Falls ID
- Spokane Downtown Library Spokane WA
Myesha's work questions what others consider normal, and through deep interactivity attempts to strengthen relationships with like-minded individuals. By producing such interactive work, she hopes to bridge the gap between herself and strangers by exploring humanity's common bonds.
Here's how participants responded:
My emotions surprised me when I looked into my own eyes. It was different than looking at myself in a mirror. I felt very vulnerable and exposed. It felt like I was meeting myself for the first time. My tears rolled hard, but the words in my head rolled harder. I didn’t expect this process to be such a therapeutic experience. I gave up a few hours of my time, and I unloaded two decades worth of negative comments, thoughts and experiences that I had no idea I was carrying. It was a hard and necessary process. A surprise gift that changed my life.
Smiles are beautiful, however self-acceptance is when I’m truly at my best, being who I am without feeling self conscious like I’m somehow failing everyone around me because I don’t feel well. I would like to live in a world where it’s ok to not plaster on a smile when that’s just not real. This project for me has meant being real. Myesha showed me that I am a good looking strong and elegant woman even if I don’t smile.
The path to Resilience isn't easy.
As an open lesbian woman in a conservative town, I have been verbally assaulted, removed from public spaces, denied jobs, yelled at, preached to, and violently threatened - just for existing... I have had strangers tell me I'm going to hell and men offer to sleep with me or rape me in order to "fix me." I want to live in a world where my existence isn't an anomaly. I don't want to be scared every time I leave the house. I don't want to smile.
Forced boundaries are mandatory for purging, growth and healing.
So many trans + non-binary people like myself experience street harrassment. It's been invaluable to be invited into this project for two reasons: a) we often get excluded from these types of conversations b) being part of a room full of people healing themselves from the damaging effects of patriarchy + the male gaze, through reative expression.
Throughout production, supporting events, such as workshops and viewings, are scheduled to obtain participant sketches and display final portraits. These are documented here by date.
In their standard presentation, each large-scale print is curated to emphasize close-proximity viewing as a confrontation, maximizing interaction with each subject.