The Therapeutic Gaze: Manon Ouimet and Photography

Firstly, could you tell us in only 10 WORDS about your photography?

My photography’s about generating trust and capturing honesty from my subjects.

How did you begin?

I was asked by Bettina Arndt, an internationally well-known sex therapist, to take portraits of new clients. Her clients were people who were trying to find love, using dating websites as a means to meet ‘the one’. She would help them curate their written profile and quickly realised the importance of a good portrait: an image that generates intrigue and helps facilitate a potential match. At the time, I loved photography from afar. I had a good camera but no idea how to really use it. More often than not the images I took were overexposed and all over the place, except for composition for which I had a natural sensibility.

I remember the first 10 people I shot like it was yesterday – I still remember their names, where they lived and how they welcomed me into their homes. Each of these people and many more to come welcomed me with emotional openness filled with insecurities. Within minutes I was made aware of what each of these people hated about the way they looked and how they perceived themselves: all the reasons why maybe they thought they couldn’t find love. The struggle was real when shooting with emotions and self-doubt flying high and the pressure of wanting to produce something that each of individuals could look at with self-love. I soon realised my job was not just to take a photograph but to change the way each individual saw themselves, show them the way I saw them – human – full of heart and love. The job was not that of a photographer, it was that of therapist using photography as a medium to better help people grow positive attitudes towards their appearances and themselves – ‘the therapeutic gaze’.

Fast forward a couple years, I started working in the world of fashion. My current exploration is how best to work in the creative world of fashion whilst producing work that focuses on this idea of the ‘therapeutic gaze’ and even how these two can be conflated into a powerful artistic statement. I am currently working on a big project – Altered Identities.

What is Altered Identities?

Altered Identities is a body of work that aims to challenge our assumptions on beauty and what it means to be whole, to be human. I am focusing my attention on a community of people who have unwillingly embarked on life-changing body alterations due to illness, war, accidents and violence. My project aims to help individuals regain confidence and reclaim their identity. Its other intention is to illuminate people who are often publicly cast into the shadows, furthering the topical conversation of diversity.

The human form has been of great interest to me for many years. I am fascinated by this common tool we all have, our similarities and differences. I’m also interested in the sociological influence on self-esteem and people’s ability to ostracise others based purely on the way they look. I struggle with people’s prejudices when simply, we are all human.

Thus far I have had the pleasure of photographing a diverse group of amputees intermixed with ‘able’ bodies that are captured in the way I see the human form; varied, but ever-beautiful. A quest to present differences as indifferent.

Through the germination of this project it has become evident that the camera and the process of creating images has therapeutic values. A ‘therapeutic gaze’ using photography as a medium to better help people redefine identity, grow positive attitudes towards their appearances, themselves and a visual voice to say ‘I am here’. It is a series showing the individuals as human, complete in their incompleteness that the viewer can sympathise with and be compassionate, not pitying.

Who inspired and motivated you?

My motivation is to better want to understand what I see. My inspiration comes from my photographic heroes; Irving Penn’s honest confrontation, Sally Mann’s exertion of natural and personal generosity, Man Ray’s playfulness and Jack Davison’s contemporary yet timeless portraits. They all present their humanist interpretation and that’s a huge inspiration. My motivation has been self-initiated. My mother is a painter, so I’ve always known a creative environment. And on my own journey, it’s just been a case of following my nose and picking up advise from trusted eyes along the way.

How has your work developed over time?

It’s hard to say how things are changing when you’re always amidst creative flux. All I know is that I’m still learning and always will be – my eye is in training every time I pick up a camera. My ability to read an image for its language is forever evolving – and that’s the joy. The feeling of personal growth.

What’s your proudest achievement?

The undertaking of my master’s degree. Deciding to develop my work past the world of fashion was fundamental to my evolution as a photographer. Having realised that I was interested in more than high concepts or making things look pretty, I decided to pursue telling human stories. Doing the MA has allowed me the time and space to throw myself head-first into a creative environment whereupon I’ve grown in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the privilege of doing. Also, because I didn’t do a BA, going to university felt like something I owed to myself. And it felt good to do it in my own time – not just age 19 after a gap year of swanning around the globe.

How do you hope your photography will evolve in the future?

I hope to continue my explorations of people, with the aim to help create better exposure towards a healthy understanding of the self and a positive outlook on those deemed different. These bodies of work will evolve from the openness of the subject and viewer.

My man and I have just started a photography partnership called Manon et Jacob.  Jacob’s background is in music and street photography and mine in portraits and fashion – but with a huge crossover in style, we realised that joining forces was really exciting. Curating our website and conceptualising shoots together enables creative dynamism that solitary work as a photographer often lacks. Working alongside a photographer I have a huge amount of respect for is a dream come true and the fact that we can keep working at home together until the early hours of the morning or have ideas in the middle of the night is pretty damn special. We are working on some big projects together and look forward to sharing them with the world.

Check out Manon’s new project -> @manonetjacob and
All images courtesy of Manon Ouimet


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