In honor of this year’s Love Your Body Week, hosted by the Women’s Center, Benjamin Flythe’s Embodied Stories photography exhibit eloquently shoulders the task of celebrating and accepting one’s insecurity and imperfection. With his series of 11 arresting portraits, each accompanied by a short statement from the subject, Flythe, MCAS ‘16, reminds us that, although each person experiences insecurity related to body image, perceived imperfections are what bind humans together and lend them their individuality.
“I think the idea of Love Your Body Week, from my perception of it, is that it’s a way to bring the campus together, it’s a way to bring people together,” Ben Flythe said.
After being approached by the Women’s Center in late September, Flythe worked to conceptualize a project centering around the subjects’ physical identifiers, anything from tattoos to the color of skin or hair, that each subject believes contributes to his or her personal identity. Tasked with such a nuanced topic, Flythe decided to approach the project from his natural inclination towards portrait photography, envisioning soft, classic portraits, evocative of Dutch painters such as Rembrandt, that still capture the complexity of the Boston College community.
“I wanted to to convey this sense of classic beauty, especially highlighting the fact that there are so many diverse people,” Flythe explained. “I made it a point to get people of different gender identity, different racial backgrounds … a mixture of everything that I could, to try to make [the project] as diverse as possible, because I think we do have diversity on this campus and I wanted to share that with people.”
Flythe’s final product does just that, as each of his softly lit, carefully composed portraits highlight the beautiful individuality that is occasionally masked by masses of Vineyard Vines. Happily, the unique quirks and defining traits that exist within each photograph do not seem forced, they reflect the natural process Flythe used to find his subjects. Instead of actively searching out subjects or drawing from a group of friends, Flythe worked with the Women’s Center to create flyers and reach out through social media to announce calls for open shoots. In the three sessions held in Devlin over the course of three weeks, friends and strangers alike showed up, all eager to participate in Flythe’s project and let their unique voice be heard.
Flythe’s interview process was just as natural, allowing for what began as casual conversations to slowly become more intimate.
“My question for everybody generally looked the same,” Flythe said. “I asked them, ‘What do you want to share with us today, what sort of things do you think have helped define you?’ I didn’t really do that in depth of an interview, it was just a … conversation with them. And that’s how I approach the rest of the work that I do, I love to get to know people … so that the photo itself can feel as much of [the subject] as possible.”
Although the subject of examining a person’s physical characteristics is always a delicate one, Flythe professionally dealt with the issue of objectification that naturally arises from focusing on the physical appearance. He intentionally included the subject’s face in each shot, ensuring that their humanity took the center stage while also allowing them to more personally connect with each of the viewers. This capacity to connect with the viewer and draw them in is essential to Flythe’s exhibition, especially when considering it within the context of Love Your Body Week.
“We think that sometimes we’re alone … because everyone gets stuck in their head, and I wanted to show this idea that we actually all have these things,” Flythe said.
And the exhibition, located in the public gallery on the first floor of O’Neill Library, certainly allows for that form of human connection. As they pass by on their way to cram for a never ending stream of midterms, students can be seen stopping for a moment and admiring Flythe’s work, and hopefully reflecting on how it applies to their own lives.
“It might be small, it might be big, but somehow we all have these same stories in different iterations, and so that was the basis for the connected humans,” he said.