INTERVIEW BY ALEKSANDRA & EMILY GEORGIEVA FOR STARK MAGAZINE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RANKIN
MAY 11, 2018
Inspired by the vital need for positive change and encouragement of natural beauty, event co-ordinator Stephen Bell and womenswear designer Steven Tai joined forces and creative decisions for a new project.
From marks and scars to skin conditions, one in every 111 people in the UK alone live with a facial disfigurement. Not only does this reflect on the way of living, but it also affects the facial features and head shape of a person. As much as this might appear as a physical insecurity, such conditions directly affect the human psychology and result in emotional struggles on a day-to-day basis.
Portrait Positive presents a series of photographs, which showcase people with facial differences and skin conditions. Follow the journey of sixteen inspirational individuals, dressed in designs by Steven Tai, photographed by Rankin himself, and brought together by Stephen Bell. Through a combination of fashion and photography, the aim is to portray these so-called imperfections as signs of beauty, empowerment, strength and confidence. The first part of the project focuses on sixteen extraordinary women, while the upcoming second series of portraits will revolve all around men.
The story of how the idea of the project was born is one quite extraordinary. Stephen Bell is an event coordinator, based in London. Due to his Syndactyly condition, he was born with his fingers fused together. He met Steven Tai, whose designs change the world of fashion by focusing on human insecurities. The steventai is a label that helps people define their character, defend their natural identity and turn their insecurities into strengths. Together, both men used their passion for integrating people and Steven Tai’s unique brand to create a fashion dialogue that accepts insecurities through natural beauty.
The mission of the project is to bring forward people, who conform the outdated fashion visions and cliché paradigms. The first part of Portrait Positive celebrates the natural features of women and celebrates this new definition of beauty. A photographic book will reflect the work of the project and will be sold in fashion boutiques and clothing stores, directly influencing people’s perceptions. Stephen Bell and Steven Tai collaboratively bring to focus what people don’t normally see in the world of fashion. Their realisation of the widely spread stereotypes of flawless men and women, which affects society, created the opportunity for a positive project with a realistic and naturally beautiful message.
The way to capture the essence of the authentic human beauty is through the work of Rankin, who is renowned for photographing individuals outside of social norms. Having worked with branded advertising campaigns including ones for Nike and Swatch, the British professional has also had David Bowie, Vivienne Westwood, the Queen and many more high-profile individuals as his photography subjects.
Where people see flaws, Rankin sees beauty, admitting that this applies to every person he interacts with. His vision and disregard for people’s personal insecurities, lead to many volunteers, who wished to take part in the project and reinvent the social normative around facial disfigurement and appearances. One of the participants, Phyllida Swift, who has a facial scar because of a car crash, shares her belief that the media builds up the ideals of beauty, which people follow blindly. Women and men often do not identify with the way beauty is advertised. Participants in Portrait Positive believe that what is seen as powerful, flawless and strong in fashion is outdated. They step forward to challenge the fundamentals of beauty, break down the stereotypes and embrace people with their differences. The second stage of the campaign brings the focus to men and we could not be more excited to follow the development and growth of how Portrait Positive redefines beauty within the world of fashion.
An opening private event will introduce each of the images, gathered together within an exceptional book. Launch events will be held for the public in major cities across the globe, including London, New York, Milan and Paris. Anyone, who is unable to attend these exceptional exhibitions, would be welcome to buy the photographic book from fashion boutiques, bookstores and art spaces.
Portrait Positive also joins forces with Changing Faces – the charity that acknowledges facial disfigurements as signs of beauty and reasons for self-confidence. The project supports and raises awareness around the admirable work charities do, alongside the support that, if given to them, would change numerous lives for the better. Changing Faces strives to guarantee people with facial disfigurements equal opportunities and access to social and health services. Alongside providing consultancy and training for health professionals and teachers, the hard work of the charity over the years resulted in fairer treatment of people in society. Friday 26th May 2017 marked the first Face Equality Day in the UK. Four months later in September, the photo shoot was held featuring designs by steventai, photographs by Rankin and the coordinator work of Stephen Bell. The first launch of the campaign will take place later this year. It will be followed by a second, male version of the Portrait Positive project in the near future where all proceedings will go towards the CLAPA charity.
Keep an eye open for the next stage of the Portrait Positive Project and for the announcements of the photography exhibitions.