“I’m looking forward to getting a life,” said photographer Frank Cordelle. “I’ve been obsessed about this – I couldn’t put it on hold.”
It is easy to see how Mr. Cordelle’s Century Project could be so consuming. On display all last week at the Colgate Bookstore, the project is comprised of over 100 nude photographic portraits of women spanning from ages 0 to 100.
Mr. Cordelle has spent the past 25 years working on the project, and is still photographing more women for the project. After graduating from Hamilton College, he spent time in Europe where he noticed just how liberal Europeans are compared to Americans. In Europe, nudity does not automatically evoke sexuality the way it does in most parts of the United States.
“There would have been no fuss over Janet Jackson at the
Super Bowl if it had happened in Europe,” said Mr. Cordelle. “They get that we’re all mammals. It really opened my eyes.”
Cordell’s project is more than a collection of nude photographs. A statement by the subject and/or the artist accompanies each photo. Tragic or triuphant all share a distinct pride. These women have found solace in baring it all in front of Mr. Cordelle’s lens.
“The first few I took, I knew the subjects. Some were old girlfriends, some were female friends,” said Mr. Cordelle. “But once my work became recognized, people started volunteering. I can count on one hand the subjects I knew before starting the project.”
In addition to being diverse in age, the women featured in the project represent many different races, backgrounds and body shapes. The project is a huge statement against the stereotypes perpetuated in our culture. These are real women, with real bodies. Each woman participated completely voluntarily, and has played a great role in deciding where and how the photograph would be taken. Consequently, each image is distinct from the next, displaying different styles, and poses.
“There’s a lot you can’t tell by looking at someone on the street,” explains Mr. Cordelle. “There’s a lot of kick you in the gut stories here.”
While working on the project, the photographer discovered that many of his subjects had experienced unspeakable trauma. Several of the women had lost breasts in battling cancer. Others had been victims of sexual or physical abuse.
One subject, Kerry, was blind due to complications with adult onset diabetes. Despite never being able to see her photograph, she described feeling liberated nonetheless. Another portrait showed Ren?ee, photographed at 18. Tragically, the young woman was killed by a shotgun at a party a year after having her photo taken for the project. Kelsi, who was photographed at age 7 and again at 15, has struggled with body image for most of her life; however, the project has helped her overcome some of these issues.
“I’m not hiding anymore,” Kelsi said in her statement.
Mr. Cordelle hesitates to single any one photograph out, but perhaps the most emotionally stirring is that of Desiree, a young woman who bares the physical and emotional scars of a lifetime of sexual abuse by family members. Desiree’s chest is marred by scar tissue, marking the spot where an angry uncle once slashed her with a knife. In posing for The Century Project, Desiree found some an emotional rescue.
As Mr. Cordelle continues working on the Century Project, he would like to find even more subjects of different ethnicities, ages, and psychological situations. The more people he can reach out to and help through his art, the better.
For more information on Mr. Cordelle or The Century Project, please visit www.thecenturyproject.com.