by Carly Dee
All images by Julia Busato
I first came across Julia Busato’s photography on Facebook. I saw an image of a naked woman holding a mannequin figure in front of herself, looking directly at the camera, with her middle finger raised. The model’s pose was confronting, not only was she not conforming to society's expectations, but she was actively rejecting them. Excited by such a display of brazen empowerment, I wanted to find out more. The image I saw, is part of Canadian photographer Julia Busato’s project, the Mannequin Series “showcasing women who don’t want to fit the mold”. Julia kindly agreed to speak to BLYNKT about this series, and her motivations behind it.
What was the catalyst that prompted you to start this project?
It all started with an Instagram image that I saw on #effyourbodystandards. It was of a stunning plus sized model who had a tiny mannequin in front of her.
I have this amazing plus sized friend who works with me as my make-up artist. Together, we decided to do a "FUCK YOU" to body standards using this mannequin that friends had given me about a year before. We created the image of her with her middle finger up, which started it all.
It has grown so much since then, hitting on issues from mental illness to many physical health issues. There are so many things that don’t get talked about, even in the year 2017. I want to bring more issues to the foreground, to have people see and talk about the things we try to hide away from.
What was it about mannequins that made you choose it to be the centre of the project?
To me, the mannequin represents society’s views on how we are supposed to look and feel about our bodies.
What do you think about the body positivity movement? Are you involved in it?
I seriously love where the body positivity movement is at the moment. I wish for nothing more than for it to continue pushing the envelopes to help more people with confidence and body acceptance.
I feel that I am involved in this movement not only with my series, but also by the type of photography I do outside of the series, with so many clients of different body types. It is important to me to bring out the very best in each and every one of my clients. I also try to bring a positive body message into my own life with myself and my children.
How did you choose your models?
At first, the subjects were people I knew who wanted to be a part of something different. As it started getting out there, more people stepped forward with interest. I did a few model calls for subjects.
Lately I have been cutting back from photographing subjects I have already photographed. I am looking for newer things that really hit home on important issues we face, not all about body positivity.
Why did you decide to include men in the series?
There are so many issues that men don’t bring to daily conversations and I really want to showcase all humans. I think it is important for everyone to see the struggles of both men and women.
What kind of reaction were you hoping for in the people who see the Mannequin Series?
At the start of this I wanted to showcase how so many people in this series are dealing with different issues, no matter their status in life. Now I want to use this series as a platform to get people talking about these issues. There is always someone you can relate to, on some level. I wish for this series to show people that they are not alone in their struggles.
Have you been surprised by any reactions to a particular image, if so, which one(s) and why?
I don’t think we can call it ‘surprised’. I knew there would be some resistance and some passion towards the photographs. I feel for each person who was bullied after allowing me the honor of photographing them, and letting their image be plastered over the internet. I feel that if there isn't a response to certain images, then I’m not doing my job right. Art is supposed to evoke an emotion, even if it is hatred.
Have you received any negative reactions to this series? If so, what about the images do you think is confronting for people?
I personally haven’t received a lot of negative feedback from the images; it is mostly directed at the subjects. It hurts me to know that some people who put their full trust in me to be a part of their journey were subjected to some awful bullying. I feel like I let them down and wish I could have protected them more. Each person that comes to me for this series is opening up to me, to be vulnerable.
What kind of feedback have you received from the models, and also the general public who are viewing your work?
Most of the feedback actually has been so supportive to me and the models. Unfortunately, some of the models had to back out of the series because of the reaction they got from their workplace or because of some harassing of their partners.
Were you moved in particular by any of the images and if so, which one(s)?
I am moved by all of my subjects, but there have been a few that have hit more close to home with me and made me sit and reflect on things from my past.
One was this very strong and beautiful subject who came to me with the idea that she wanted to speak to all sexually assaulted viewers. “Not Their Fault” was written on the mannequin. As a survivor, I was extremely proud of her for doing it. That particular image put me in a dark place in my own head for a few days, but I am so thankful for it.
Has this project had an impact on how you see yourself, or how you see other people?
In general it has a big effect on how I see myself, especially when I look in the mirror and start to disapprove of myself, or judge myself negatively. I think, "How in all good faith can I ask these wonderful people to strip down for me and show their most vulnerable states to me and the world, if I can't view myself through the same non-judgmental lens?" I have learned to accept a few more of my flaws as badges of honour now.
What would you like the legacy of this project to be?
I would like to have these images hold up the test of time and be seen by those who need to see them, when they need to see them. Each model is bringing forward a story that someone can relate to. Sometimes we need to see to understand. I feel that the people who are upset by the images should take a look at why the image and the subject affect them that way. There is a real opportunity for growth, acceptance and healing with this series.
Find more of Julia Busato’s work here, including further images of the Mannequin Series or on Facebook “Julia Busato Photography”.
Carly Dee is a London-born writer and the editor of BLYNKT magazine. She writes poetry and prose which focus on human relationships and interpersonal communication. Her work has appeared in Firewords Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review and The Corner Club Press amongst others. She is also a spoken word artist and has performed in Berlin, New York and London.