In thinking about the movie still images in the last post, my mind traveled to the exquisite work of Jennette Williams, The Bathers.
“What makes for beauty in women? How do we as a society perceive women as they age? I began with what were simple intentions. I wanted to photograph without sentiment or objectification women daring enough to stand, without embarrassment or excuse, before my camera and I wanted my photographs to be beautiful. . . . I drew upon classical gestures and poses of Baroque and Neoclassical painters and utilized the platinum printing process to assure a sense of timelessness, as if the older or ‘normal’ woman has always been a subject of the arts.”
Williams's work was selected from three hundred entries in the fourth biennial First Book Prize competition, Center for Documentary Studies / Honickman First Book Prize in Photography
“Jennette Williams’s photographs of women bathing portray the female form, but they transcend simple representation to speak powerfully about women’s own private sense of identity and beauty. It doesn’t matter that these bodies are not conventionally ideal — when these women are in front of Jennette’s camera, they are proud to reveal their full femininity. . . Jennette is both an excellent documentary photographer and a superb portraitist, a rare combination.
As in Ingres’s The Turkish Bath, Jennette’s lounging women not only revel in intimate feminine moments but in the camaraderie of women as well. They relax together, soaking in the steamy atmosphere. These hauntingly beautiful and iconic images of women are captured in extraordinary, magical spaces enhanced by wonderful light.”
—Mary Ellen Mark, from the foreword
Mary Ellen Mark also states:
"I asked Jennette about her process in taking these pictures—how she convinced these women to let her photograph them nude, how they came to trust her. First of all, of course, she was willing to be nude herself (though she often wore a vest or shorts with pockets to hold her film and light meter). Even so, many of the countries where she photographs are quite traditional, and it’s easy to imagine the difficulties she encountered in gaining these women’s confidence so that she could photograph among them freely. Jennette told me that she would shoot in the baths and then go back to her hotel room each night to process the film so that she could read the negatives. She would make prints back home and return to the baths with boxes of photographs to show and give to the women. When the women saw the photographs, they allowed her to continue to photograph them. I’m sure it was the beauty and dignity of her images as well as her approach that put them completely at ease in front of her camera."