Visions of beauty: Photographer Zed Nelson takes Love Me to the Side Gallery in Newcastle

By Ben Miller | 01 December 2010
A photo of a child beauty queen
Katie, age 9. Winner. Universal Royalty Texas State Pageant. Texas, USA© Zed Nelson
Exhibition: Zed Nelson: Love Me, Side Gallery, Newcastle, until January 22 2010

London photographer Zed Nelson is no stranger to incendiary subjects. His last show, Gun Nation, explored the American infatuation with weaponry, and this follow-up, which has been nominated for the Deutsche Borse Photography Award among a string of accolades, saw him spend five years experiencing the beauty industry in 17 countries.

He found Barbie Doll wannabes in South America, skin lightening in Africa and rising anorexia in the beauty pageant hotbeds of Japan and China, picturing mask-clad girls fresh from their nose jobs and make-up adverts scaling buildings.

“We live in a society that celebrates and iconises youth – where the old, the aesthetically average and the fat seem to have been erased from the pages of our glossy magazines, advertising posters and television screens,” he points out, hypothesising on “an increasingly narrow palette of beauty” and suggesting that western stereotypes have become “a new form of globalisation.”

The human condition, says Nelson, fosters this depressing pattern, created by judgements made in milliseconds by pretty people who get more sex and better treatment in court.

A photo of a woman and her daughter in a cosmetic surgery studio
Elham, 19, and her mother, 55. Rhinoplasty nose job operation. Tehran, Iran© Zed Nelson, courtesy of Impressions Gallery and Ffotogallery
“The body has, in a sense, become just another purchase,” he concludes, casting his lens over “an almost pathological obsession with our bodies.”
“The one thing we do know for certain is that our body will always, in the end, betray us.”

None of the beauty queens, bodybuilders, pornstars and soldiers Nelson met seems to have improved his own mortal sense of anxiety. He began the project as his mid-30s brought his own ageing process into sharper focus.

“Perhaps it began quite simply, one day, when I looked in the mirror and realised I would not live forever. I’m sure I am not alone in being surprised by that actual revelation.

"I am fascinated and appalled by the commercially driven export of ideals. But Love Me is also a response to the insidious forces that exploit and prey on the weakness and insecurities that are perhaps within us all.”
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