I can still remember the first time I looked at myself in the mirror and noticed the lines around my mouth. There were two of them, one on each side. I looked at them closely and realized they had probably been there for a while, but I guess I didn’t notice them before. I observe their momentary presence when I smile, and their quick waning as I resume a neutral face. One of my first thoughts was how I can fix that when the time comes. Talking to my friends and googling, I’ve learned that smile-wrinkles are not easy to erase. Well, I thought, perhaps I should stop smiling so much.
As a young woman, approaching her 30s, I hear so many voices of women around me questioning and fearing the process of aging. Most of these women are still quite far from experiencing any significant changes to their bodies, but the fear of change seems to have slipped into their consciousness. Margaret Lansink’s book, Body Maps, deals with aging and the difficulties of accepting it. Lansink tackles this subject by comparing photographs of female figures to nature. She unveils the female body through blurred photographs and hidden figures combined with images of charred fields and naked trees.
Lansink’s previous projects reflect on different periods of her life and grapple with struggles she went through. Photography becomes her therapy – fusing philosophical pondering with personal experience. Body Maps continues this method of work. Dealing with personal subjects such as Lansink often does, can potentially feel overly intimate – a testimonial rather than an artwork. Yet, Lasink succeeds in transforming her own personal testimony into a universal one by distancing the work, keeping it subtle, hidden, blurred and abstract. Even when displaying such intimacy, Lansink never fully reveals the characters of her photographs, allowing the photograph to guide us into a world of mystery.
Body Maps is beautifully handmade. It is not meant for a spontaneous observation. It is large. The viewer must be prepared for a suitable environment to flip through it. The paper is thin and delicate and every time I touch it, it seems to leave a mark. There are empty spaces, layers, blank pages, and folded hidden pieces that generate obstacles in the search of the images. There is a feeling of darkness and struggle. Perhaps shame.
Halfway through the book, there is an additional small zine. In contrast to the black and white photographs in the book, the zine contains full bleed colour photographs of nature, where we witness the renewal of damaged fields and trees. The images maintain a sense of nostalgia yet do so while looking into the future. Time and ageing are apparent through them by the faded colors, dust, scratches and light leaks. There is something optimistic in them, despite or even because of the imperfections that are far more present than in the black and white photographs. Just like the human body, if you observe it deeply enough, through the negatives, you will learn more about the story and history behind them.
After the fall, trees grow leaves again; the wood cracks and the branches change their shape, renewing themselves and experiencing youth again. We women, on the other hand, would rather fight ageing than enable ourselves to become something new.
The contrast between the atmosphere of the book and the zine suggests a conflict in accepting ageing. In the book there is a focus on the present state of the body and trees: it is achromatic, bleached, layered and blurred. Yet those wrinkles originate in memories, in experience and duration. The zine offers us this time travel back to the very moments that created the wrinkles, the body, the marks that make us who we are. The zine is free, wild, young, accessible and colourful. It wears proudly the imperfections of the photographic negatives.
The decision to show the female body next to nature reflects on the process of ageing in both the body and in organic matter. The trees, just like the human body, age. But nature has no consciousness and doesn’t need to go through the process of acceptance. After the fall, trees grow leaves again; the wood cracks and the branches change their shape, renewing themselves and experiencing youth again. We women, on the other hand, would rather fight ageing than enable ourselves to become something new. The transformation of our body, the changing skin and wrinkles, all of the things that we see as negative – they are the things that express our life experience. By ending the zine with a colourful photograph of the same women from the book, Lansink loops us back to the process of ageing, yet this time with a tint of optimism. Although she deals with the struggle, she also guides the viewer to a new phase, where the two women become something new.
When I finished looking at the book, I placed it back on the table and walked straight to the mirror. I searched again for the lines around my mouth and smiled. I smiled in light of the thought that they are there as a result of joy. When I look back at that moment, where I understood that those wrinkles will be difficult to remove, I remember feeling frustrated thinking they will never disappear. Lansink’s book left me with a desire to look again at the mirror and observe those wrinkles closely and rather than forget them, embrace them.