A student stands in front of a camera and lifts her shirt to reveal the words “self, hate, respect, aware” written in bold black ink on her back. The words describe her deepest insecurity and now she is immortalizing it on film.
Her name is Betsy Tsai. She is a third-year film and television student and a participant of UCLA’s “The Self-Worth Project.”
The original concept was started by photographer Tommy Corey after the suicide of his close friend and captures the fears and insecurities of participants by printing them on the their bodies. The student members of the UCLA Film and Photography Society have emulated Corey’s idea by implementing their own “The Self-Worth Project,” modeling and photographing the piece themselves and displaying it at the Kerckhoff Art Gallery, as part of the Cultural Affairs Commission’s Art Series.
Catherine Collins, a first-year undeclared student and photography director of the Film and Photography Society heard about Corey’s project from a friend, and decided the idea would work well at UCLA. The act of bearing a person’s greatest fear for everyone to see lets people understand each other in a profound way, Collins said.
“It required both of our inputs,” said Collins. “I tried to be aware of their comfort level and work with that.”
But to get to this point, it was essential for the photographer and model to have a sense of trust. Collins said it was important for the student models showing off their insecurities to feel comfortable and safe in the photographing environment.
Tsai modeled for and helped photograph “The Self-Worth Project” shoot and said she appreciated the friendly atmosphere of the project, which allowed everyone to feel comfortable in a shoot that was difficult at times.
“It’s not like we’re being examined under lights and a microscope,” Tsai said. “It’s not just about aesthetics, it’s not just about technique. It reminds me of documentary filmmaking. The photographers are trying to find the truth of something, which is sometimes difficult to discern.”
Tsai said her biggest struggle is her relationship with herself. But she said she had no problem showcasing her insecurities, and likes being able to show her innermost struggles.
“I’m just really introspective, to the point where it’s almost exhausting (and) really emotionally draining,” Tsai said. “That’s not something that people would really know about me. It boils down to the essence of myself. It’s not something easily noticeable.”
But the pictures weren’t always dark. Some of the models wanted to explore their insecurities and fears in a more tongue-in-cheek way.
Some eschewed the traditional word written on the body and opted for a more artistic look, said model Vanessa Goh, a fourth-year environmental science student who also photographed for the project.
The photographers let the models choose their own ideas and worked with them to get their emotions across in the pictures, rather than have the photographers choose all the elements of the shot themselves. The models chose the placement of the words on their bodies, the poses they wanted and the props they used in order to make the photos more personal.
Goh has modeled for FPS photo shoots before, but she said that “The Self-Worth Project” photoshoot was different because, instead of looking primarily at aesthetics, it focused on the emotions that came from the models’ inner selves.
“So it wasn’t really about fancy poses, it was more like this is me dealing with an internal struggle,” Goh said.
Goh continued this visual theme when she got behind the camera, encouraging her models to represent their fears and insecurities in more artistic ways. One model wanted to express her fear that no one listened to her because she is usually so quiet. She drew a speaker symbol on her hand and held it to her face, screaming into her hand and symbolizing her struggle to be heard.
“I think a lot of students are afraid to go certain places in their minds, afraid of their own fear,” Tsai said. “It invites self-exploration, which I think everyone needs.”