On Beauty, a documentary short is redefining beauty. Rick Guidotti, fashion photographer (whose clients have included Revlon, L’Oréal, Marie Claire, Elle, GQ and People), is using his camera by raising consciousness about the standard of beauty. He left the fashion world when he grew frustrated with having to work within the restrictive parameters of the industry’s standard of beauty. After a chance encounter with a young woman who had the genetic condition albinism, Rick re-focused his lens and uses it to challenge convention and redefine beauty with the help of two extraordinary women.
At the center of On Beauty is two of Rick’s photo subjects: Sarah Kanney and Jayne Waithera. Sarah left public school for home school in eighth grade because she was bullied so severely for the Sturge-Weber birthmark on her face. Jayne lives in Eastern Africa where people with albinism are highly discriminated against and are sometimes even killed for their body parts. Rick’s photos challenge both mainstream media’s narrow scope of beauty as well as the dehumanizing black-bar convention of medical textbooks. On Beauty is part of his movement, which society must address to improve humanity.
I spoke with acclaimed Emmy-nominee documentary director, Joanna Rudnick about On Beauty.
L’Etage: What inspired you to make this film?
Joanna: I had just finished up making a personal film about finding out that I had the gene mutation for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, BRCA. I was on the road showing it, and came across an exhibition of Rick’s photos. They stopped me in my tracks. Here I was exploring the stigma associated with this hidden mutation, and Rick was capturing people who wore mutations every day on their faces and in their bodies. But I didn’t see disease or stigma, I saw a beautiful child playing in a pool and another with slightly crooked glasses and a confident smile. Those pictures stayed with me. This was the opposite of the black-bar medical photo; it was humanity at its core. It was different.
L’Etage: What is the call to action?
Joanna: Steady your gaze. Don’t stare or look away when you see someone who looks different. Don’t assume you know them. Get to know them. If you steady your gaze, you will see their beauty and the so-called differences will melt away. Now, take this and apply it to yourself. If people are making you feel excluded or your are beating yourself up for something that you deem unworthy or different, find a way to see your own beauty beyond all that junk. It’s amazing how much different the world looks when you stand taller.
L’Etage: Do you believe magazines are damaging to the psyche?
Joanna: That’s a great question. I believe that it is impossible – day in and day out – to be flooded with photographs of an ideal beauty that is narrow, exclusionary, unattainable, unrealistic and in some ways unhealthy, for that not to impact our sense of self-worth. You’d have titanium blinders on to be immune to it. The antidote in my view is self-love, self-actualization and a widening lens. There was a great line by Rick that was cut out of the film (one of the darlings on the cutting room floor) that I will never forget. He said, “Vogue Magazine may not put Elizabeth [a photo subject] on the cover, but when I’m done, they damn well with know she’s beautiful.” To me that is the key: It’s about changing perceptions of what is beautiful, opening up that standard inch by inch.
L’Etage: How do you define beauty?
Joanna: This question takes me back to Rick’s photos. They are so strikingly incredibly beautiful because he has removed all artifice and judgment and taken us directly to what makes every single one of us uniquely beautiful and gives us permission to see it! That’s beauty for me. It’s that ability to cut through all of the distance, standards, assumptions, self-doubt….to get to what connects me to you. And by cutting through, I’m going to see your beauty and you’ll see mine.
L’Etage: Please discuss how dangerous the term “standard of beauty” is.
Joanna: Again, I have to quote from the film. Rick’s dear friend Joe, a make-up artist in New York City, said: “Nothing standard will ever be beautiful.” To me, standard is boring. It’s vanilla. By the very nature of the term, it is exclusionary, and it suggests that there can be one type of beauty that is “right.” It means we are missing all of the beauty outside of that 1% of standard and that’s tragic. The most amazing thing about beauty is it is subjective and not dictated. It is everywhere and it is gloriously unexpected if you let it be.
On Beauty has won top awards and recognitions at Sebastopol Film Festival (Audience Award for Best Short and Best of the Fest), Cleveland International Film Festival (Jury Prize for Best Documentary Short), Geneva Film Festival (Jury Award for Best Documentary Short) and Chicago International Film Festival (Audience Choice Award for Best Short Film). The film also had sold-out screenings at DOC NYC.
Watch the must-see trailer here:
On Beauty will open in Los Angeles on Friday, July 24 at the Laemmle’s Royal Theatre. It will open in New York on Friday, July 31 at Cinema Village.
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