The concept of having a pen pal is lost in this 21st century. Few now would know that it involved making snail mail friends with people you had never ever met or inclined to ever meet in the future. Having a pen pal was movement that was promoted by many schools and you would have a pen pal living in the opposite end of the world.
I never had a pen pal but I have had something close to that in my internet friend Dana Moreno López. I have written about her a few times before.
I believe I must write this version now.
In 2001, over those languid Christmas holidays that used to be a staple of my life and before social media brought banality into our life full-time I participated in photography forums. In one based in Spain I read a very good account on how a model should deal with photographers. Dana (at the time she used the handle Dana Fotera) wrote in detail how the photographer and model should meet before photo sessions over coffee and how parameters would be set. From that point Dana and I became friends. She would send me jpgs of herself taken by very good Spanish photographers. I used to show these pictures to my classes at Focal Point where my students developed a liking for the in your face girl with the freckles.
Sometime in the mid-2000s Dana had a heart attack. She might have been around 21 then. At surgery before any of the knives appeared she almost died because of a severe allergic reaction to anesthesia. She was told it was far safer for her to live with her heart problem than to challenge her chances with an operation. Dana was living at home. She was a kindergarten teacher and a very good amateur photographer who specialized in photographs of young female gymnast athletes. I had no way of understanding on how in the then (and perhaps even now) conservative atmosphere of Spain she was able to hide from her father her penchant for posing with nothing on.
She is now one of my fave facebook friends and we have a persistent running little conflict on the fact that I believe that the best pictures she ever took are the ones she took of herself. At my age I am no longer impressed by the fashion poses and fashion looks. But I am impressed by series of underwater pictures her friend Teco has been taking of her. In all of the photographs, Dana always does nothing to hide her myriad freckles.
The reason for this blog came about when recently after seeing one of her breathtaking self-portraits (mostly with window light) I wrote in Spanish, “Finally I have seen the humanity in you.” Her quick answer was, “We are all human.” I don’t think she missed the point,. I think she wanted to assert her right to disagree.
By my inaccurate calculations if Dana was 21 when I first met her in 2001 she would now be around 35. She is much too young for what will follow below which will be my diatribe on a trend I see in social media and just about everywhere else. That it is happening at a time when women have been “liberated” is troubling. It is troubling because the trend seems to be generated by women themselves.
Because of my age, 72, many of my female friends are this side of 50 and close to mine. In social media they do everything to hide what they look like now. Some of them post pictures of their offspring. Others pose behind nets or in distorting mirrors. Yet others use obvious photo “improvement” programs to eliminate pores, bags, wrinkles and unsightly hair colour. When these women post these pictures, the superlatives from other women know no bounds. There is one frequent one that would infuriate me were I the woman. “You are still beautiful.”
Sometime in the 90s I read a column (a female columnist) in Esquire in which she gave advice to gentlemen who wanted to get to first base with high fashion models. “These women are tired at hearing how stunning they are. Point out their intelligence and they shall be yours.”
Why must the posting of female selfies always have to have statements of agreement on beauty? Why does this not apply to male selfies?
I used to say that in male portraiture wrinkles gave men character while in women it was considered character assassination. Nothing seems to have changed. An exception to all of this is my non-plus-ultra fave Charlotte Rampling who poses exactly how she is.
I can predict that Dana Moreno López will never fall for any of this. She will always appear exactly as she is with all her proud and very human freckles. I look forward (if I am still around) to seeing her photographs (preferably those self-portraits) when she reaches 40 and beyond. That will be on hell of a woman.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.