As a photographer, Rick Guidotti has worked with leading magazines including Elle, GQ and the New York Times, as well as renowned companies such as Revlon, L’Oreal and Yves Saint Laurent. His business is beauty and some of his previous subjects’ names are practically synonymous with the term: Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Brooke Shields.
But Guidotti saw beauty elsewhere, too — often beyond conventional norms. Tired of being bound to “somebody else’s standards of beautiful,” Guidotti now shares his perspective in an exhibit opening at Barns of Rose Hill this weekend.
Positive Exposure’s Spirit of Difference photographic exhibit begins locally with an opening reception Sun., Mar. 18, 3 to 5 p.m. in the Barns’ Lower Gallery. Visitors can meet the artist and preview the documentary “On Beauty,” Mar. 23 at 7 p.m. The exhibit continues through May 12.
Positive Exposure supports and promotes human dignity through an image data bank and video interviews of persons, particularly children, living with genetic conditions.
Guidotti recalls the epiphany that led him to redefine “beauty” through his camera lens. He remembers seeing a girl waiting for a city bus who had an ethereal beauty that was riveting – yet her exceptional beauty was atypical in that she lacked pigmentation in her hair, skin and eyes. When Guidotti returned home and began researching albinism, he was dismayed to see the medical textbooks portraying these people through “horrible, sad images.” Often, black bars were graphically placed over their eyes in the photos to protect their identities – casting a pall of shame over the condition. What Guidotti saw in these photos was “despair, a lacking of humanity.” What Guidotti determined to help the public see – and the people with this condition see – was the beauty that he encountered when he first caught glimpse of the girl waiting for the bus.
Guidotti contacted NOAH, The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, and told them, “Let’s show the world the beauty of albinism.” After initial reluctance and suspicion on the part of NOAH representatives who knew how the media had generally portrayed the condition in the past, they began to work together on a photo essay for Life Magazine.
Guidotti recalls that first photography session with a young girl with albinism. “I had just photographed Cindy Crawford the day before,” remembers Giudotti. “And in walks this girl named Christina who was amazing looking. She was just stunning, yet her shoulders were hunched and there was no eye contact.” Realizing that this model was uncomfortable with her appearance, he jumped into action. Turning up the music and turning on the fan, Guidotti grabbed a mirror and held it up to her. “Look at yourself!” he told her. “You’re magnificent!” A smile spread across her face and by the end of the energized shoot, Guidotti says she was beaming with pride. “She was enlightened, and once you’ve been enlightened, you don’t go back.”
This enlightenment spread. The photo essay for Life Magazine won the Genetic Alliance’s “Art of Reporting” award. Other magazines started using Guidotti’s images, and other organizations began to contact him. Guidotti realized that there was universal applicability to his work, and this movement to celebrate diversity became an even bigger picture than initially imagined: “using the visual arts to show the beauty of difference.”
A Clarke County Connection
Local resident Catherine Burzio and her daughter, Pauline, met Guidotti as a result of his affiliation with one of the organizations they all worked with, Chromosome 18 Registry and Research Society. “I was leery of the crazy man running around the kids with a camera, but after I met him and heard his story, I was hooked,” recalls Burzio. “Pauline was hooked at ‘crazy man running with camera.’”
Guidotti photographed Pauline, and the two formed a lasting friendship throughout her abbreviated life. She died in 2007 at age 13. “Pauline changed my life,” says Guidotti. “We had a blast.”
Catherine Burzio loves “the honesty of life portrayed in each image.” She is the curator for the exhibit at Barns of Rose Hill and hopes the community visits the exhibit and is challenged and moved by Guidotti’s work.
“I would hope this would spark conversation on what we define as beauty and what we define as a life worth living,” says Burzio. “I would love for the viewers of this exhibit to be challenged to move out of their comfort zone, to loosen bias and perception to see more. And to simply enjoy the images — they are fabulous!”
Guidotti continues to broaden the scope of his work through an educational component – going into medical schools and presenting his images to students there. “All healthcare providers-in-training need to see their humanity,” he says, referring to the people behind the genetic conditions.
He also is working on “The PEARLS Project,” a tool inviting students to learn about their peers living with genetic, physical and behavioral differences through an image gallery and safe online blog. Guidotti hopes this communication tool will unite youth and allow for the insight, “This person really is just like me.”
For more information on the international and groundbreaking work of Positive Exposure, visit www.positiveexposure.org.
What is beauty?
When asked to define “beauty,” Guidotti says it’s almost impossible because it’s really an emotion. “Beauty is freedom,” he says. “It is allowing yourself to see beyond the iconization of beauty. Real beauty comes to you once you’ve freed yourself from the dictates of ‘beauty.’”
As a precursor to the Positive Exposure exhibit, Burzio was the curator for a student exhibit at the Barns encouraging young artists to share their vision of “beauty.” This exhibit continues through Sat., Mar. 17. Viewers of this exhibit were invited to complete the phrase “Beauty is …” by writing their ideas on a card which was then affixed to a display board. Some of their answers follow, and the public is encouraged to continue with their answers in the comment section of the Clarke Daily News.
Beauty is …
The birth of a child
Friends and animals
Words of affirmation
The image of God reflected in the human face
Kissing the top of your child’s head
What is your idea of beauty?