Quick hit: Uncovered photography project

Via Hoyden About Town (FYI: all links in this post are NSFW):

It is legal for women to walk around topless in public in New York City. In the “Uncovered” exhibition, photographer Jordan Matter imagines what life might look like for women in NYC if this was not just legal, but routine and unremarkable.

Like Lauredhel, I find this project fascinating. Women are represented in the city, doing everyday things, but with their torsos exposed. Some of the photos have commentary from the women involved, and, as you might imagine, it ranges from empowering (like the cancer survivor mom with her ED survivor daughter) to heartbreaking (like the woman who saw her perfectly beautiful picture and was too upset to do anything but cry). There are bodies of many different shapes and sizes, though fat bodies are in the minority; some of the photos are comic, some are painterly, some are matter of fact. I’m always drawn to projects that show women’s bodies that aren’t photoshopped all to hell; let us know what you think in the comments. (And just a warning: some of the commentary, as I said, is from women dealing with body image issues, including fatphobia — so far I haven’t encountered anything extreme, but I haven’t looked at all the photos yet.)

32 thoughts on “Quick hit: Uncovered photography project

  1. Attrice, me too! I felt like that picture could have been taken of me just about any day of the week — except, of course, for the shirt. ;-)

  2. Hah, I’d just gotten to that photo when I decided to come back to the site through which I’d found the exhibit and comment. What an excellent idea for a photography collection!

  3. Wow! There is a lot of different bodies in those photos, and alot of different breasts. Neat!

    Although, I’m pretty sure if you walked topless down the street, you’d probably get some rude comments and whistles, even if you wouldn’t get arrested.

  4. I think this is a great project, although it didn’t affect me quite as much as the Century Project (also NSFW). Probably because it had fewer musings from the participants.

    The thing that killed me, though, was thinking about some of the responses the photographer would get if he had comments enabled. Things like “sorry, but that woman who was told she’s too fat to be an actress is really fat” or “it’s fine that you feel good about your body, but why should I have to look at it.” I was trying to imagine someone looking at the photos and saying “my god, SHE feels bad about her body? What is wrong with the world?” and I’m sure some people would and will, but others will think things like “well at least she KNOWS she has to lose four inches off her waist to become a model.”

    Maybe I was a little brutalized by troll patrol yesterday.

  5. I like the photos, and I agree it’s interesting and provacative, but this:

    The informal and humorous nature of these images celebrates women without sexualizing or objectifying them, while creating the illusion of a tolerant world in which shirtless women go casually about their lives. Uncovered represents just one aspect of what America could look like if we were free of shame and liberated from moral judgment.

    would be much more meaningful to me if the photos appeared more natural (like the topless woman playing chess in the park) rather than depicting so many scenes in which nobody would go around topless – the middle of a snow storm, during the workday wearing suit pants and carrying a lap top bag, in the library. Because of the decidedly unnatural settings in which he photographs most of the women, they don’t appear quite as natural and unobjectified/fetishized as I think he intends.

  6. The day this was legalized in New York (sometime in the early 80s maybe?) a bunch of activist women did just that. I remember seeing pics of them riding the subways topless. Pretty cool.

  7. This is beautiful, thank you for posting it.

    Seriously, it’s legal to be topless in public in NY? I mean, obviously it is, but it still seems pretty unbelievable.

    NOTE: I don’t recommend google for an answer to that question; you will find the obligatory fataphobic BS to turn your stomach.

  8. I thought it was great. What I liked is that even though there were plenty of thinner women, they were all NORMAL women, not super models made to look like normal women.

    I have to agree with one of them that said that if men were exposed to breasts more often then they wouldn’t be so taboo to show in public…

    And to the last picture were the woman in the background had her hand over her son’s face (assuming it was her son) so he couldn’t see the topless woman…I mean, does she really think he has never seen a set of boobs before?

  9. I love this. It’s really powerful.

    I need to think about it more, though. It’s hard to form a quick summation of why I think this is such a wonderful idea.

  10. This is beautiful, thanks so much for posting it. Although, the women who commented that when she found out she had breast cancer that she’d rather die than be without her breasts just broke my heart.

  11. Ottermatic:Because of the decidedly unnatural settings in which he photographs most of the women, they don’t appear quite as natural and unobjectified/fetishized as I think he intends.

    I second this.

    I’m a little torn, really. I loved looking at them – I’m prudish as all hell about nudity myself, but I love to look at human bodies. And because they were strange and most of them active, they were much more pleasurable to look at than your average fashion spread of comatose models. But they ARE imperfectly “unobjectified.” I suppose the question is whether this project reinforces or undermines an objectifying gaze most, since it clearly does both.

  12. Around here, it usually means eating disorder. :-D
    sweetmachine

    Ohhhhhhhh…..I swear I had no idea. I can’t view the site at work because nudity is blocked. Joy killers.

    Yes it is legal for women to be topless in NYC. I remember when there used to be a group of women who rode the subway together but in recent years there is just one woman who on the first day of summer every year rides the subway. Television news crews follow her for a couple of hours and film reactions of people on the subway. I think for the most part people are shocked not because she is topless but because she is fat.

    I don’t remember her name but she does it the first day os summer every year. I’ll be looking for it this year and I’ll amke sure to post about it.

  13. @ Sandy

    What she doesn’t realize is that by making breasts forbidden, she is just helping making them taboo, fetish objects.

    I don’t have kids, but I would rather them see breasts as just part of every day life than shameful, secret parts of women’s bodies.

  14. It’s also legal to go topless in Ontario, but I lived there for a year and the only time I ever saw topless women was at the Pride Parade in Toronto and occasionally at outdoor concerts and festivals. I never saw anyone just walking down the street topless. (And no, I never went topless myself… I was not comfortable enough with my body at the time, plus I get upper back pain if I walk around with my breasts unsupported for more than a few minutes).

    Anyway, I thought this was really powerful too. It was wonderful to see those imperfect women who did take joy and pride in their bodies, and heartbreaking to see those who didn’t – or who were told not to. I have to say, I also feel better about my breasts after seeing all those pictures – I’ve always hated how much they sag, but looking at all the different shapes and levels of firmness those breasts came in helped me realise mine really are normal.

  15. I loved this. Some of the commentary was sad, and some of it was fucking amazing.

    It’s legal for women to go topless in Eugene, Oregon, but pretty much the only place you ever see it is at the Oregon Country Fair.

    My ten-year-old son came up behind me while I was looking at pictures, and we had a good conversation about it. We talked about MLK yesterday. It was stunningly obvious to him that it’s just as wrong to double-standard legislate against a sex as it is a skin color. We live in a crazy society. Not as crazy as some, but still crazy.

  16. I don’t have kids, but I would rather them see breasts as just part of every day life than shameful, secret parts of women’s bodies.

    I was raised in a prudish household in a prudish culture. When I first saw a woman unbutton her shirt to feed her baby (thereby exposing her breasts; most women in this society take pains to be “discreet” when breastfeeding in public, as even the suggestion that breastfeeding is occurring in their visual field is considered obscene by some people,) I was surprised but quickly got over it, as to her it was clearly as natural as taking off a jacket. I have to wonder, if nipples and the bottom half of breasts were not so taboo, would breastfeeding in public become less so as well? Or would it still be considered akin to, say, lips being okay to see in the grocery checkout line but french kissing not?

  17. I looked at some of the pictures and where it was nice to see that thin women don’t all have great bodies, just real bodies, it would have been nice to see more variety of shapes.

    The one full-figured woman was a light-skinned black woman
    who talked about losing weight. Whereas I applaud the photographer for his efforts, I’m not going to run out and celebrate. I’m sorry, it’s not varied enough for me to make
    a big deal about it.

  18. I take it back. I went through and glanced at ALL of the
    pictures. All of the bigger bodies are towards the
    ends and what’s funny is that men’s heads are
    turning. But wait?! Aren’t men NOT supposed to be
    attracted to fat women? I’m going to forward this to
    some of my friends . . . the open-minded ones.

  19. I second the comments about the photos being “imperfectly objectified”. Men don’t go topless in the snow, or to work — and nobody can be topless in a Starbucks, by health code. And the BBC video freaked me the hell out, with the female cops being very uncomfortable and nervous while the male cops ogled the shots on the samera, and the photographer grinned at them. Several of the photos were very male gaze on female body in style.

    Still, I like the stated intent, if not always the result or method.

  20. What a wonderful testament to the perfection of the human body – even in all of its alleged imperfections!

    I sent this link to my WAGS professors and some girlfriends. If only everyone could (would) see it!

  21. Yeah, that one spoke to me too, Buffy. I have a very dear friend who had breast cancer last year, had to have pretty radical surgery and generally went through hell. That someone could be such a bastard makes me so depressed. She was a damned sight politer to him than I would have been.

  22. (Granted, i’m something of a nudist, and i refused to read the text that went along with the images. Mostly because it was so tiny as to be barely legible on my computer.)

  23. I love this photography. It was nice to see a commercial photographer who does not just focus on head shots as well as models etc. I think the ones which worked with text were the best, which does however leave me wondering that if the text were not there, would the images say as much as they currently do? If we didn’t know the meaning behind them? Powerful stuff none the less. I am a photography student, who just so happens to be going to New York in just over a week, so I’ll try and find his work. Thank you for introducing me to this photographer.

  24. I’m pretty new to the whole “accept your body the way it is” thing. I’m a man who hasn’t been seen topless in public for twenty years. It may be legal, but it ain’t socially acceptable when you have a bod like mine. I’m a lifelong dieter who’s still overweight. Go figure.

    So the project really spoke to me, especially the comments from people saying, basically, “This is the way my body is. Deal with it.” I still probably won’t show up to work topless tomorrow (for one thing, it’s five below here), but it did make me think real hard about some of the ideas of body-image that I’ve internalized.

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