Photo: Jen Davis, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Jen Davis's Self-Portraits Offer Eleven Years of Self-Scrutiny
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Jen Davis's Self-Portraits Offer Eleven Years of Self-Scrutiny A weighty study of beauty

By Photo: Jen Davis, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City

Overweight and shy, the young Jen Davis often used her camera as a way to communicate with the world. In 2002, she began an explicit study of her insecurities, her body, and society’s perceptions of beauty. "Eleven Years," the series that resulted from this explorationnow on view at ClampArt Gallery in New Yorktraces her self-directed gaze from her early twenties to her thirties. 

Jen Davis,  Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Pressure Point, 2002 

The first image in the series, "Pressure Point," sets up the various issues Davis revisits throughout the series. She is sitting on a sandy beach mat, her shorts and tank top contrasting with the bare skin around her. She "was working with a view camera on a tripod, an unconventional object on the beach," she told an interviewer in 2013, "which intrigued passersby, making them my audience. Unknowingly, I was attracting attention, making them see me.” 

Jen Davis,  Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Untitled No. 14, 2005 
Jen Davis,  Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Untitled no. 38, 2010
Jen Davis,  Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Untitled No. 39, 2010 

Davis's images call to mind seventeenth-century Dutch paintings, isolated figures bathed in natural light, engaged simple daily taskswith the occasional splash of vibrant color. Her expression is often pensive and solemn, and even in the photos where she interacts with someone, she seems apart. In addition to being an exploration of body image, this series is also an exploration into love and intimacy. 

Jen Davis,  Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Untitled no. 24, 2007 
Jen Davis,  Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Untitled No. 28, 2003

With these photos, she says, “I was doing was seducing myself. I couldn’t necessarily identify with the idea of someone seeing me as ‘beautiful,' but I could accept that the pictures that I created and inhabited were.” 

Jen Davis,  Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Maxwell Street, 2002
Jen Davis,  Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Untitled No. 34, 2010 

Davis’ self-portraits serve to unravel her insecurities with the aid of the lens. By showing the viewer her vulnerability, she elicits both sympathy and empathy. This series not only speaks to those who’ve struggled with their weight, but to those who’ve struggled with fitting in and body-issues generally. Discomfort with oneself is a universal experience. 

Jen Davis,  Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Steve and I, 2006
 
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