Photographer Rick Guidotti shoots a woman named Jayne in On Beauty. Photo: Courtesy
Fashion is, by its very existence, a superficial industry. Everything is based on looks: hair, makeup, clothes, weight, even skin color. Every imperfection on a model or celebrity is airbrushed out of photos until they look like a glossy god on a pedestal, sent here for us mortals to worship. But what about the rest of us? What happens if we don’t look like Cara Delevingne? Are we beautiful? Hell yeah, we are!
That’s the premise behind the new short documentary On Beauty by director Joanna Rudnick. In select theaters starting July 24, the film follows fashion photographer Rick Guidotti and his organization Positive Exposure as they shoot captivating images of kids with genetic anomalies like albinism and facial birthmarks. Guidotti has shot for major mags like Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE and GQ, but after years of snapping famous models like Cindy Crawford ad nauseam, he felt depleted. So he set up to start celebrating human diversity by taking photos of kids with albinism. And the photos changed these girls’ lives.
“Rick really set out really early on to make the fashion industry more inclusive,” Rudnick told Yahoo Style. “But this is bigger than that. This is a bigger story than that. This is a human life movement. And his own growth in that. They [the kids] helped him find that purpose in his own life, too.”
Though the film is only thirty minutes, it packs a wallop. “The response has been amazing, and every audience has asked that it be longer,” Rudnick said. “But it’s a conversation starter. It’s for you to start asking questions. The response has been universal. People have said, I relate to that, I felt that way, I felt that stigma. That lack of self expression.”
“I hope the film creates a better understanding of beauty,” says Guidotti. “The freedom and strength to recognize, to see, to embrace that beauty in human diversity and above all, in their own reflection.” He’s also working with schools on anti-bullying talks using the photos he takes with Positive Exposure (one such talk is in the film).
“In 1999, when I photographed the stunning Kaelin living with Sturge-Weber syndrome, we had a blast shooting. She was amazing,” Guidotti said, explaining the genesis of the anti-bullying aim. “At the end of her shoot, her mom called and told me that Kaelin never talks about teasing and bullying at school because she knew her mother would scream and yell at the students and teachers making things even more difficult for her in the school environment. But on their way home from the studio, Kaelin told her mom that kids tell her everyday that she is ugly, a monster, a freak and she believed them, until today. Then she mobilized and invited me to speak to 400 students in her school, where she raised the question out loud and onstage with me: ‘What is NORMAL!’ Kaelin then and there created the formula and philosophy of Positive Exposure: Self-Acceptance = Self-Esteem = Self-Advocacy.”
Another major goal for Positive Exposure is to change the way medical textbooks show these genetic differences. Guidotti hopes to add humanity back to the pages of these books, and remind doctors that these aren’t just diseases and afflictions. “You’re not a specimen, you’re a person,” Rudnick said. “It was something that I had absolutely never seen before. And I’ve seen the impact Rick has on people’s lives.”
After all the incredible people Rick has shot the world over, he still can’t pick a favorite. Seeing some of the brilliant smiles he manages to pull from shy kids, it’s no wonder why. “Every single person I have worked with is unique and extraordinary,” he said. “There are so many amazing stories. Fourteen-year-old Kristina told me after our photo shoot that she is finally is proud of her difference. She also said that she realizes the hatred and abuse she experiences everyday will never disappear, but what has disappeared is the hatred she felt for herself.”
Let’s see a fashion spread do that.
On Beauty is theaters in L.A. July 24-30 and NYC July 31- August 6.