text by Merete Hædersdal, MD, PhD, DMSc
Professor, Consultant in dermatology
University of Copenhagen, Bispebjerg Hospital
Bispebjerg Bakke 23, DK-2400 Copenhagen NV, Denmark.
Visiting scientist, Wellman Center for Photomedicine
Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School
What is a port-wine stain?
A port-wine stain, or nevus flammeus, is a congenital vascular malformation, and as such it is almost invariably present at birth. A light-pink to deep-red macule, port-wine stains occur in approximately 0.3 percent of newborns. Accounting for their intensified red skin colour, microscopy of lesions reveals dilated vessels in the dermal skin compartment. Lesions vary in size, ranging from a few millimetres to potentially covering extensive skin areas. Though the vast majority of port-wine stains appear on the face or neck, lesions can be located on the entire body surface, potentially involving mucous membranes. A port-wine stain persists throughout life. Typically, the lesion becomes gradually darker, raised and thickened over time, primarily due to an age-related increase in vessel diameter. However, the surface area remains unchanged relative to body size. Depending on the anatomical location of the port-wine stain, some patients are at risk of suffering from associated eye and brain abnormalities, and patients with port-wine stains on the extremities may develop limb enlargement due to tissue growth. Port-wine stains thus have the potential to pose cosmetic challenges, particularly if located on the face, and subgroups of patients with port-wine stains may suffer from associated functional and psychological challenges.
Over the years, a variety of treatments have been used to treat port-wine stains, including x-ray therapy, cryotherapy, and cosmetic tattooing. However, due to ineffectiveness and undesirable side effects, these modalities have fallen out of favour, and today laser therapy represents the treatment of choice. Using specialised technical laser equipment, it is possible to target dilated abnormal vessels selectively, while leaving surrounding skin unaffected. This unique treatment strategy is based on the concept of selective photothermolysis and was first introduced with the flash lamp pumped pulsed dye laser in the late 1970s. While technical advances are emerging allowing for additional, new treatment concepts, pulsed dye laser remains the gold standard treatment.
Nevertheless, even with the most advanced technical laser equipment, it remains a challenge to achieve complete clearance of a port-wine stain. Fortunately, in the hands of a skilled operator, the great majority of port-wine stains can substantially lighten, and depending on anatomical location and lesion characteristics most patients achieve good to excellent results from multiple (up to 5-10-15) treatment sessions. However, approximately 20 percent of patients remain poor responders. In contrast to adults, children are treated under general anaesthesia. After having received laser treatment for a port-wine stain, patients experience a 7-10 day down time with swelling, bruising and stinging sensation, which gradually fades over time.
Should we treat port-wine stains?
As the majority of port-wine stains are located on the face, there is a substantial aesthetic concern among patients due to visible discoloration and potentially thickened skin and hypertrophy of underlying bone structures. Parents of children with port-wine stains commonly request treatment due to concerns for the potential harmful effect of a disfiguring facial port-wine stain on psychological development.
The question as to whether treatment of port-wine stains is advisable has no black or white answer. Patients, parents and families are different, each having their own background, each possessing their own story and handling situations in their own way. This emphasises the importance of patient-doctor consultations to discuss individual disease characteristics, treatment procedures and expected outcome for the specific patient, with the overall goal to support patients and families in their decision concerning port-wine stain treatment. From a doctor’s point of view, it is my conviction that we best support our patients with this general approach, initially discussing whether to treat or not and thereafter providing top-quality treatment for the patients who find therapy desirable.
text by Karen Lisa Salamon
Associate Professor, PhD
Department of Anthropology
Faculty of Social Sciences
University of Copenhagen
Marilyn Monroe had a beauty mark which was part of her visual signature and iconic image. Other stars, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna, Cindy Crawford and Blake Lively, also accentuated their small, special signs on the skin, distinguishing them from other good-looking faces of the entertainment industry. The beauty spots signal that these ideal types are also real, natural women with unique personalities.
Birthmarks have long functioned in this double capacity as both naturally carnal and ideally transcendent. For centuries and across cultures, these floating signs have moved in a space spanning airy symbolism and bodily, earthly matter. In this span, humans have interpreted, changed and improved their birthmarks, sometimes accentuating them; sometimes covering them up. The marks have been altered, played with and fought against, and their meaning reconstrued.
At the magnificent court of the rococo king Louis XV in French Versailles, fake beauty spots were in high fashion. Ingeniously designed stickers were applied to the skin or painted on to cover smallpox scars, emphasise beauty and send coded, flirting messages at court balls. The trend spread and later became a popular symbol of the Rococo Period alongside powder and wigs.
In other places and periods of world history, naturally occurring marks on the skin have been interpreted as signs left by supernatural powers, telling about blessings or doom; or as natural signals telling about certain genes, threatening disease or specific personality traits.
Human beings instinctively interpret facial features. The gaze is drawn towards visible marks breaking with customary expectations, patterns and norms. Unfamiliar skin patterns have often been interpreted as if they were mystically coded signs or letters in a puzzling text.
The interpretation of birthmarks takes place within cultural contexts.
In modern science, altered skin pigmentation may be seen as just an arbitrary biological variation, or indicating certain genetic markers and evolutionary conditions affecting the embryo. In other cultural contexts, similar pigmentation might be understood as a divine or magical mark, set by supernatural powers.
In Ancient Greece, birthmarks were sometimes interpreted by oracles who regarded them as revealing signs, sent by gods and other superhuman forces. It was widely believed that birthmarks could be caused by statues and paintings surrounding a pregnant mother, so that the shapes of the marks on the foetus were determined by these idols and images.
The belief that a pregnant woman’s experiences would cause birthmarks on the child remained influential for a long time. It reappeared in various versions, not least in periods when Antique philosophical doctrines came back in fashion, for example during the Renaissance and Neoclassicist periods. As late as in 1714 a self-trained, English physician wrote that birthmarks were incurable results of the mother’s fantasies during pregnancy. He was contradicted by another physician who argued that this belief was ridiculous and disturbing to families. Still the debate continued, and a generation later, a French professor of medicine claimed a clear connection between a pregnant mother’s yearnings and the child’s appearance at birth: “Envies, or desires [..] are strange marks to be found at birth, some of which are located on the face, and others on other parts of the body as well… […] wine spots or milk spots; all this, through the powerful imagination of mothers, who, while pregnant, ardently wished for certain things…”
Thus, a widespread conviction remained – originating millennia back in time with Greek philosophers and spreading to folk beliefs – that birthmarks were incurable products of uncontrolled female desires and imagination, disturbing to the male order of Nature.
In the Danish and German languages this belief is still reflected in the words for “birthmark” which directly translate to “mother’s mark”: modermærke and Muttermal.
More positive approaches to birthmarks have existed elsewhere and during other historical periods. In Buddhist Tibet of the 1930s, skin pigmentation played a significant role in the appointment of the fourteenth Dalai Lama. After the death of the highest leader; the previous Lama, a special delegation went out to find the Lama’s next true incarnation. The expedition searched for a little boy child who would fit the prediction that the new incarnation of the Chenrezi would have a certain pigmentation on the upper part of his body. A little boy fitting the prophecy was found and taken as the next Lama. The marks on his skin were interpreted as evidence that he belonged to the correct, hereditary, spiritual succession and reincarnated the previous Lama.
Similar associations between birthmarks and reincarnation are known from modern religious and spiritual movements in the West, for instance New Age, Hare Krishna and Theosophical Spiritism. The possibly most famous version of these beliefs was launched by a North American psychiatrist who in the 1960s claimed to be able to scientifically document several hundred cases of reincarnation. His evidence was children who said that they remembered their previous lives. He claimed that these children’s birthmarks corresponded to marks found on the bodies of those deceased and supposedly reincarnated. Marks on the dead could be wounds from mortal gun shots. The psychiatrist attracted many followers. He inspired alternative therapists to work with a special reincarnation-focused form of regression therapy, where clients would be brought to experience events from their alleged previous incarnations.
This happened even though the psychiatrist’s theory was refuted by scientists who re-examined his data and found serious flaws in the reputed documentation. Just as the theories of birthmarks stemming from sculptures and pregnant women’s fantasies were proven wrong by modern medicine, so also the reincarnation theory was rejected by contemporary science.
Regardless of scientific critique, many of these supernatural ideas linger on in alternative movements and popular superstition. These ideas fit well into both ancient and current convictions that everything in Nature must be understood as deeply meaningful and intently produced by supernatural beings.
During the Renaissance this persuasion was expressed in a total theory and all-inclusive paradigm – the doctrine of signatures – which gave humans access to the meaning of signs given by God and Nature. During this historical period, the sciences and religious beliefs were not yet separated as different types of knowledge. In the beginning of the 1500s, alchemist and astrologer Paracelsus could thus both function as occultist and physician, declaring that “everything has a sign”: All patterns and forms could be decoded for a deeper, predestined meaning by those who had the right knowledge, such as Paracelsus himself.
Still today, elements of these notions remain, for example in homoeopathy, astrology and alternative medicine. The doctrine of signatures also influenced the formation of early scientific diagnostics, and its traces can still be seen in medical interpretations of indications and symptoms.
Outside the scientific world there are still many techniques claiming access to deeper knowledge, true identities and destinies via the deciphering of signs hidden in the letters of a name, the numbers of a date or in the lines of a palm. Within this framework nothing is accidental. Everything still has a sign.
Both inside and outside of scientific contexts, only certain remarkable phenomena are regarded as actual signs. For example, not every little freckle or birthmark is interpreted as having a deeper meaning. The pigmentation must first of all be regarded as a mark. Whether a different skin colouring or texture is perceived as trivial or significant depends on the given technological, social and cultural conditions.
In the Christian Bible, the Apostle Paul said: “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus”. In the Ancient Greek version he actually said “stigmata” which meant marks such as those left on the skin by a pointed tool, tattoos or burns. The Apostle seems in the context to have commented on the covenant of circumcision. Since many centuries prior to Paul’s lifetime, male circumcision had symbolised a divine contract “which you shall keep between Me and you”; between the Biblical God and his people; and it is still kept today as an essential, Jewish ritual.
The precise meaning of Paul’s remark remains a theological discussion, but Christian posterity has interpreted his words so as to say that devotion to Jesus shall not be marked through the sign of circumcision, but rather might appear as divinely produced stigmata on the body. These may resemble the wounds of the crucified Jesus; for instance those left by the nails that pierced his palms. Accordingly, marks found on the skin of a saintly or devout believer could be interpreted as signs of strong piety and select blessedness, especially if the marks were placed on parts of the body corresponding to those where the crucified Jesus had also suffered lesions.
Within this logic, also far less blessed markings could be selected out, producing quite a different kind of public stigmatisation. A sinister and socially destructive side of the doctrine of signatures appeared in especially Renaissance European and American witch hunts, where the accused person’s birthmarks or “witch marks” often were read as “the devil’s signature”. Here marks on the skin could be interpreted as signs of sorcery or marks set by evil forces rather than good. In this cultural context it could be dangerous to have a strikingly irregular skin pigmentation, as this could be deciphered as an indication that unnatural or evil forces were present. The “marked” person could thus be accused of being “the devil’s property” or of having made a pact with evil forces, and could end up convicted and killed with legal sanction.
The association between demonic powers and certain marks on the skin is still found in popular culture. Witches in cartoon versions of classic fairy tales often are distinguished by the large, dark moles on their noses and pigmented facial scars. Also in contemporary movie productions like Vampire Diaries, beautiful, young pop vampires can be recognised by their well-designed skin deformities which look like scars after burns.
The trade mark
All of these marks and stigmata are in each of their contexts perceived as identification tags, left by somebody as a token of a special relationship, domination or ownership. Like other kinds of signatures, these marks are connected with identity and forms of ownership, as they are placed on property to represent the owner’s identity.
In modern marketing and sales, “trade marks” and “brands” are essential elements, but the original meaning of these terms is rarely mentioned: Brand means fire or burning in Germanic languages and has passed into English. In “brands”, the link between ownership, claimed identities and physical marks is clear: A fashion brand on a garment supposedly also rubs off on the identity of the person carrying the brand.
Far back in time people have physically branded their property with personal marks and signatures, often to prevent theft. Many contemporary, corporate logos and product brands still borrow aesthetic elements from those stigmata or burns which in earlier epochs were used to mark leather and wood with monograms.
Serial numbers on meat and bacon also indicate a similar connection between ownership and markings, making it possible to identify and track the origin of sold goods.
Live cattle and pets often have tattooed numbers or cuts in their ears, or are branded with their owners’ initials. When different herds of cattle graze together, these marks serve to clarify the rightful ownership of the animals.
Similar techniques have for ages been used to control and dominate human prisoners and slaves. The permanence of the marks prevented these unfortunate people from escaping their masters and the slave identity. They literally were stigmatised for life by the marks on their skin.
It was this social phenomenon which inspired the modern use of the word stigmatisation. In the social sciences it denominates a communal stamping of certain individuals or groups of people as deviant, and locking them in an outsider role.
Another modern term which can be traced back to physically marked contract relationships is the written “signature”. Today, also highly abstract, digital and biometric signatures count as identity markers. These signs and signatures formally and socially determine who we are, what we own and what we may do.
Nowadays many people also choose to mark themselves with permanent signatures and other signs on the skin, often to signal identity and affiliation and as a form of decoration. With a Polynesian loanword, we call these self-inflicted stigmata “tattoos”. Some people also use these ink markings to cover other marks, as did the rococo courtiers who used fake beauty spots to cover blemishes and scars.
From time to time decorative stickers reappear as fashion accessories, for example in the form of modified, India-inspired dots or bindi, made from glass, metal, textile and synthetic fibers. In India bindi are most often placed between the eyebrows, and in modern Hindu practice they might signal a person’s religious and marital status. Many practising Hindus also carry other pigmented marks painted directly on to the skin; on the forehead, in the parting of the hair or elsewhere on the body.
Through these marks people and gods speak from the surface of the skin and tell about the person carrying the mark, indicating his or her social relations and cultural vantage points. Such marks can also function as a form of direct speech to the world, as some modern tattoos also do. Sometimes these (re)marks are taken to be provocations, hence may become socially stigmatising for the person who wears them.
Especially in culturally alien contexts, it can also be stigmatising to carry the marks of self-imposed tattooing, cutting or scarification – for example of ritual scarification, such as it is known in West Africa.
Some gang members carry facial tattoos which mark their strong dedication and submission and at the same time function as a life-long sacrifice of anonymity and a contract of eternal membership. The tattoo also signals the gang’s ownership over the member.
The word “mark” actually is all about ownership, as it concerns demarcated territory. In several European languages, a “mark” is a field and thus a territorial property. To “mark off” also means the creation of a borderline or a demarcation of ownership by using signs. Den-mark is such a demarcated, territorial area, owned by Danes.
Whenever the word “mark” (as in “market”) appears, look out for issues of ownership and demarcated property!
A person who in some way exceeds the limits by crossing the lines of the mark and of normal manners in a given social setting will often get a “re-mark” or even a “bad mark”, which can be experienced as stigmatising. But then there is also freedom in crossing the mark.
Contemporary definitions of normality are not necessarily any more inclusive than those of previous epochs, but they are different and carry different consequences. It is no longer the doctrine of signature or various beliefs in pious stigmatisation that set the parameters for the interpretation of physical appearance.
In the modern, industrialised societies, functionalist ideals of homogeneity, efficiency, streamline and regularity have also come to influence taste and normativity surrounding body and skin. Technological developments and commercial competition have made it attractive to buy access to dominant body ideals by way of plastic surgery, fake permanent tanning, shapewear, scientific workout, hi-tech make-up and digital photoshopping.
As in Classicistic architecture, symmetry, homogeneity and regularity are the ideals, even for our very organic and heterogeneous human bodies. In the technologism of modernity we are furthermore brought up believing that all irregularities can and must be planned away. Regularity has come to equate beauty.
Age, gender and other organic differences are thus more or less levelled out by modification and retouching.
When the same ideal faces and figures have been shown again and again in their photoshopped, regulated versions, the resulting staged look becomes the norm. It becomes the natural truth about who we are – or really should be. (Not least for those deviating from Nature’s apparently homogeneous and still male norm).
Real human beings then try to make that normative, synthetic, photographic and digital world of signs come true by persistently manipulating hips, hair and cellulite, reducing wrinkles and bleaching away all unplanned spots.
The world is full of signs and patterns. This is what we humans perceive and live.
Depending on our time and place in history, we see the world through different systems of natural order, and we mark it off with different markings which we interpret in our different contexts.
Birthmarks, which constitute a visual difference and separate aesthetic territory from average skin, are remarked by human eyes.
Whether these marks are interpreted as signs of divine blessing, deviance – or just as random, normal variations – depends on the eyes that see, and also on the treatment and staging set up by those who carry them. And by those who photograph them or in other ways present them to the world.
Life in Plastic
text by Jane Rowley
Linda Hansen has won numerous awards for her portraits – of people. In Life in Plastic she shifts focus to the animal kingdom, creating an entire menagerie of loved and familiar creatures. But despite their lifelike appearance, the images blown-up here are actually headshots of diminutive plastic figures – small enough to be held in the hand of a child. Closer examination reveals the thin plastic joins on a budgie’s beak, the chipped paint and cracked plastic of a missing ear, and the paint worn thin on an apparently soft yet brittle muzzle.
Hansen transfers her skills in portraiture to this world of plastic miniatures, constructing a tailor-made mini studio complete with backdrop. Then, just as with the humans she photographs, she zooms in for the close-up – shifting angle, directing and moving her inanimate subjects to capture their personality – and their direct gaze.
It is this gaze which makes the inhabitants of this artificial world so strangely familiar. With consummate skill Hansen injects life into these mass-produced toys, capturing their expressions and giving them the capacity to move us. Chipped and bruised by wear and tear, Hansen reveals these war-wounded of the playroom to us anew.
Figures normally unseen by the adult eye, as they are hurriedly swept off the floor into toy-boxes or hastily gift-wrapped for children’s birthdays, are revealed as the creations they are, allowing us to appreciate the skill and detail of perception that has gone into their making. A haughty camel sneering down at us, a heart-rending chimp whose protruding lower lips seems to tremble and whose eyes look wet with tears, and an angry battered pig, who definitely looks as if someone had trod on its totters. An apt choice the artist’s native country of mass-produced Danish bacon.
Because Hansen’s project, as the title of the series Life in Plastic reveals, is broader in scope. The animals she renders so lovingly become symbols of an increasingly inhospitable planet, a planet in which the sad chimp is pinned to the vivisectionist’s operating table, the factory-farmed pig is injected with antibiotics to combat the open sores inflicted by its crazed cellmates, and the wounded giraffe looks at us in bewilderment from a treeless world.
In this context of global destruction Life in Plastic could be seen as a photographic Noah’s Arc. Yet here there are no pairs. Each and every figure is rendered totally individually.
And looking at you.
Linda Hansen project
Linda, short form of Belinda (English) or Rosalinda (German). No known meaning. The name came to Denmark with the first wave of English names in the latter half of the 1900s. The name is most common in Copenhagen and Zealand and has become increasingly less widespread since the 1980s.
( The Big Name Book , Aschehoug Publishing)
Hansen - patronymic of the male name Hans. Hans is the German short form of Johannes, the most popular male name throughout most of the Christian world during the Middle Ages. The name Hans came to Denmark with the mass German immigration of the late Middle Ages, and has been one of the most common names since. Which is why since 1856 - when the Danish central administration made surnames mandatory - it has been so common. The name Hansen has, however, become less widespread since the 1980s.
(Georg Soendergaard's Danish Surnames , Lademann's Press)
Self-Scrutiny as Subject
It's must be three years ago that the Danish photographer Linda Hansen first told me about her idea. She wanted to find and take portraits of people in Denmark with whom she shared a peripheral common destiny. Women with the name Linda Hansen. Nothing more, nothing less. Not necessarily all the Linda Hansens in the country, but enough to give a representative picture.
I was immediately taken by the idea. Was rapidly, like Linda herself, fascinated by the concept of a series of very different women with one thing in common - the name Linda Hansen.
I'd often thought about what it is that holds people together. Why it is that so many distance themselves from the common destiny a family represents, for example, to surround themselves exclusively by those they choose themselves. It is precisely the common destiny we can't choose that is a mirror image of ourselves. For better and for worse. Either in family relationships or - if you believe in astrology - in relationship to people born at the same time. But this is also what makes it frightening. Yet the mirror image is an inescapable part of our identity. Which is what makes rejecting it problematic.
I couldn't imagine that the women Linda Hansen wanted to photograph would have anything other than their name in common. Any true common destiny would be impossible to find. Or would it?
She told me that the idea had arisen several weeks earlier when she was participating in a photography exhibition in a gentrified area north of Copenhagen. During the exhibition opening a curator had said: 'Linda Hansen ...! How on earth are you going to make it with that name?' At the time she didn't reply. She'd never really thought about her name, and regarded the comment as more tactless than provocative. But it wouldn't go away. Because it was so narrow-minded. It was the prejudice behind the comment that generated the idea. She would find and photograph people called Hansen.
Back in Copenhagen she looked the name Hansen up in the telephone directory, coincidentally under Linda Hansen. There was half a column. Just of Linda Hansens. In Copenhagen alone. Of course - they were the ones she should shoot. The ones with whom she shared a coincidental 'common destiny'. And - as she believed at the time - out of sheer curiosity. But in reality also to defend this section of the Danish population - and thereby herself - against attacks of prejudice.
A few days later she met her former teacher from the art photography school Fatamorgana in Copenhagen. She told him about the idea and his response was: 'Linda Hansen? You'll find her in the working classes'. The comment hit home. Maybe because she was a daughter of the working class herself. Her father was a motor mechanic, and her mother a home help. Maybe because the comment was not only obviously provocative and prejudiced, but perhaps precisely because it had an element of truth. About her. And maybe about the others? Taking portraits of her namesakes was to develop into a constant unconscious battle between the acceptance of her own class identity and her rejection of it. And a painful confrontation with her own prejudices. In the end the portraits were to become mirror images of herself rather than representations of her namesakes. Vulnerable self-portraits with self-scrutiny as their subject.
According to Statistics Denmark more than 250,000 Danes have the surname Hansen. And more than 10,000 have the first name Linda. The figures made her think of generic labelling - and reminded her of the curator's comment. But when she discovered that only 530 Danes are called both Linda and Hansen - and that the vast majority of them also had one or more middle names - she relaxed a little.
Excited and curious she began the hunt for 'pure' Linda Hansens. She rang and explained what she wanted to do then paid them a visit.
They all got the idea. It was as if all of them, independently of each other, had felt common because of their name. And as if the photographer's interest gave them a chance - in spite of everything - to be written into history. For some it was the first time in their lives they had been proud of their name. And it frightened her that their identities and personalities could be so strongly linked to their name.
She got her own name by coincidence. When she was born her five-year-old brother was allowed to choose her name. He'd seen a film where there was a lovely little girl called Linda, so that was what she was to be called. He'd given her the name because he thought she was something special. An opinion that was subsequently incorporated into her own self-image. But the majority of her namesakes apparently didn't share this self-image. That was what worried her.
What she hadn't realised was how much a name says about a family's unconscious. Still less how significant it had been for her that her family - apparently unlike the families of the others - had articulated a reason for her being given the name she had.
To remain true to her own self-image she invented a mantra: 'You're not a worse person just because you have a common name, just like you're not a better person because you have an interesting name'.
The majority of the Linda Hansens she met were working class. That irritated her because what she wanted to prove was that nobody could conclude that a Linda Hansen came from a particular background or had certain limitations.
It was important for her to disprove the prejudices of the comment that had started the entire project. It became important for her that the women she photographed looked good. That they radiated charm and seemed positive and happy. And it became important for her that the viewer couldn't - on the basis of their apartments or houses - pigeonhole them. She wanted to make it impossible for people to think 'That's a typical Linda Hansen'. So she photographed them in totally anonymous surroundings.
But when she got home with the portraits the same questions emerged again and again: 'Why aren't we allowed to see anything other than the women? And why do they have to look happy?' She wasn't drop-dead gorgeous herself, so why did they have to be? When she got home and started going through the contact sheets she realised that the women she had photographed didn't look happy. That there must have been something else, something more important going on during their meetings that had overshadowed the happiness. Other moods and emotions than those she had set out to capture. That this was the case, and why this was the case, was something she first realised almost a year later.
Initially she tried unconsciously to hide her own shame at coming from a working-class family. How else could her attempts to remove her models from their surroundings be interpreted? She was trying to hide the physical evidence of their class. She was deluded into believing that class could be hidden. She believed in an ideal, and that's what she tried to isolate from all context. The project had become deeply personal. She was defending herself against prejudice. The coincidental 'common destiny' she shared with her models just made it difficult for her to see that this was the case.
Almost a year into the process she took a course that became a turning point. The photographers on the course were given the assignment of going onto the streets and photographing as an animal. She did a good job. At a time when she was reaching the limits of frustration over the results she'd achieved so far. The assignment made her want to explode - to use her entire body in her photography. To expose herself and stand by what she had created.
What the course made clear was why she, who thought she had resolved the issue of being called Linda Hansen, had spent almost a year taking picture postcards. She herself was prejudiced about her own name. Otherwise she wouldn't have been provoked enough to do the project in the first place. She'd always seen herself as a tolerant person who didn't judge others. But now she had to admit that she was biased too. She'd found herself thinking - when she arrived at the home of a new model - 'Jesus, this one's a typical Linda Hansen'. She'd been provoked again and again by prejudiced comments and opinions, but now had to face the fact that she herself had judged her namesakes. She'd betrayed both the coincidental common destiny she shared with the women and that she shared with her own family.
The realisation was painful but also productive. She visited each model again, changed style, and was more free and honest. She enjoyed uncovering the honest sides of herself and her models. Enjoyed going out to photograph a Linda Hansen and come home with her contact sheets to search for a true expression. To return to her models conscious of what she was looking for and follow through. She took the challenge of reaching her goal and photographing with her entire body. From her stomach, her heart and her sex. And it worked.
Almost three years later she'd reached the concluding phase of the project. She had developed a style. Discovered a language. And was starting to tell a story. The true story of Linda Hansen, the coincidental 'common destiny' and her own story - with everything that implied. The expressions were varied. She revealed information about each individual's environment. She continued to photograph new Linda Hansens, but focussed on taking supplementary photographs of those she had taken pictures of over the previous years. There were now 28 Linda Hansens in the project
Her biggest hurdle was her own self-portrait. Taking that photograph was a real battle. It was difficult because she - regardless of the realizations she'd had en route during the project - was just like everybody else when it came to her turn to be photographed. She wanted people to think well of her. That they should think she looked good - and nice. So she made a set of rules to avoid that. She decided that she would wear the clothes she'd had on all day. That she wasn't allowed to look in the mirror before she started shooting. She was to be subject to the same conditions as all the other Linda Hansens had been. She was satisfied with the self-portrait because it came so close to how she saw herself. The portrait was honest. Something she wasn't afraid to show.