Sarah Kanney is one of the stars of the documentary ‘On Beauty’
When Sarah Kanney was as young as three, she remembers people asking her parents, “What’s wrong with her?” Feeling very confused and alone, the now 26-year-old recalls, “I noticed people staring a lot and knew that wasn’t normal.” Kanney was born with a red Sturge-Weber birthmark on her face, and while it didn’t bother her, people’s judgements did. “When I was younger, I always felt I was beautiful but it made me angry that know one else felt that way,” Kanney tells Yahoo Beauty. Enter photographer Rick Guidotti who has made it his mission to show the beauty of people with physical and behavioral differences. Today, Kanney is one of the stars of On Beauty, a documentary that follows Guidotti as he hopes to redefine beauty with his photographs.
The 30-minute film puts the spotlight on Kanney and Jayne Waithera, two of Guidotti’s photo subjects. Kanney’s birthmark caused her to be teased and bullied, while Waithera faced discrimination because of her albinism. Despite this, both women have developed confidence and a belief in their own beauty. “Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. We are all individuals. No two finger prints are the same, so why should we be?” says Kanney. “Just because some people look different, doesn’t mean that they are different.”
For Kanney, participating in the project was powerful. “I wanted people to understand it’s ok to look different, and just because someone has a condition doesn’t mean it runs their life.” Even with the best intentions to change perceptions, there was a bit of uncertainty about joining in the project and being photographed by Guidotti. “I was very hesitant, it was a big leap out of my comfort zone. I didn’t know what to expect."
Rick Guidotti photographing Jayne Waithera. Photo: On Beauty
Guidotti began photographing individuals with medical conditions after seeing the way medical textbooks were illustrated. He found the black-bar (often used to sensor eyes) dehumanizing. After years of working with supermodels like Cindy Crawford and for clients such as L’Oreal and GQ, one of Guidotti’s goals became to rework how medical textbooks show these diseases, making sure the humanity and individuality behind the disease is also showcased.
Emmy-nominated director Joanna Rudnick worked on the film, which spanned five years, shooting from Las Vegas to Kenya. “Rick’s photography was an exact affront to [the black-bar] imagery, allowing people to have names, larger-than-life personalities and identities outside of one defining label,” says Rudnick. And Kanney knows this best: “I’d like people to have an awareness of the condition and [know] that it doesn’t stop me from doing anything I desire in my life,” she says.
Once Kanney understood Guidotti’s vision, she decided she was in, ‘Photo shoot! Ok, cool lets do it’,” she recalls exclaiming. While Kanney loves the photographs, she understands that her beauty comes from a different place. And that her perceptions affect outside perceptions as well. “Once I started to just focus on myself and make myself feel good…people see it in you and feel it being projected. When others feel your happiness, they then feel happiness for you.”
‘On Beauty’ began playing in Los Angels on Friday, July 24 at the Laemmie Music Hall in Beverly Hills. It will open in New York City on Friday, July 31 at Cinema Village. (Video: YouTube)