Shelby Counts - Photography

More Than A School Picture

         Once a year, every year my mother would put a dress on my bed and spend an hour on my hair. At school, in a flash of a camera, our portrait was taken for the year and we were normal children again. So much pressure and expectations were instilled into a picture that would be put inside of a wallet or forgotten in a frame. Is it possible to re-contextualize a school photograph to reclaim a more accepting belief of self-image and step away from the superficial expectations that surround a photograph?
The act of drawing portraits of my school pictures is a pursuit of overcoming the standards of beauty and perfection that were forced upon me when I was young. Drawing the portrait as close to the picture as possible to reach my own understanding of perfect. To re-create this little girl and the sweetness behind the smile while the pen drawings on top represent the standards and ideals that others unintentionally forced upon me. Every comment that has stayed with me has its own weight and damage that it has created. Innocent comments from other school children, parents wanting to help while unintentionally doing more harm than good, or the media’s small box of what can be considered beautiful. All these things have shaped me into the person that I am, and I have had to overcome the want to align myself to the standards of society to become my own person. To become an individual.
         The embroidered series contrasts with the drawn pieces in which visually the photograph itself becomes the focus. However, the embroidered pieces focus on the strongest memories that relate to the image. While the graphite portraits allow me to process my own distortion of how I see myself, the embroidered pieces process through the most important emotional events of my childhood. The most prevalent being my kindergarten portrait which was the last time I felt truly beautiful. The dress that goes along with the drawn and embroidered series is wanting to encapsulate the happiness that I once felt. The process of putting the dress together was done just as desperately as trying to reclaim that innocence of a five-year-old. Spending weeks hunting down the right fabric and lace, designing the dress to look exactly like it had when I was a child, and putting the dress together and then taking it apart. The dress is a work in progress and has gone through many stages uniform to myself. Striving for the perfection that has been idealized for so long that is always just out of grasp.