There’s a line in the novel The Other Hand that goes: “a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.” This is what the 24-year-old British photographer Sophie Mayanne has set out to document, telling the real stories behind her subjects’ scar tissue with her series ‘Behind the Scars’.
Some of the wounds she documents come from everyday accidents or minor procedures: bones broken in childhood; a birthmark removed in a routine operation. Others speak of traumatic events or extraordinary tales of survival – self-harm, stabbings, life-saving operations, a narrow escape from a house fire…
What makes the project resonate, is the complexity and variety of emotions that the subjects seem to feel about their scars. A seemingly small scar can be a reminder of much deeper psychological wounds, while major disfigurement can be a source of pride. Some models show only the affected body part, keeping their face hidden from view. Others stare into the camera, daring us to judge them as somehow imperfect.
How did you get interested in people’s scar stories?
Since I was young, I’ve always been fascinated by what makes us different from each other, especially the really unusual things. My interest in scars stemmed from this. Every scar has a story, a history, behind it. For me, the understanding of where the scar came from and the story of how it was formed is just as important as the image itself.
The Behind the Scars series started out as an editorial for Petrie Inventory in August 2016. It was more geared as a fashion editorial and styled accordingly, as was the next shoot, for Boys by Girls. I started working on it as a personal project in April this year with a slightly different approach – more natural, more real.
Was there a person that first inspired you to tell these stories?
There was a young man I met on an ad hoc portrait shoot a couple of months before I did the first editorial. He was a lovely, friendly guy. We chatted, as you do, and he told me his story. He had been stabbed by a Samurai sword and been in a coma for five months. His scars defined his features and I was completely fascinated. I remember one of the girls where we were shooting saying that his scars looked like angel wings.
Your other work is mostly of musicians and models. Is shooting this project a very different experience?
Not so different. Everyone I shoot, no matter what type of model they are, has their own stories to tell and their own quirks and hang-ups. But I love the variety and contrast that Behind The Scars brings. Different bodies carry the same scars differently. This can be based on age, color, body shape, a whole host of things. A scar will heal quicker on a child, or can cause keloid scarring on some skin colors, and more damage on others. I get to meet people from all walks of life, young, old, financially stable and unstable, the educated and those that struggle every day. There is a wealth of beauty and diversity in our society that I want to embrace. Everyone is different, interesting and has their own story to tell, whatever the type of shoot.
How do you find your models?
I don’t find my models, they find me: either through word of mouth or via social media. We never turn anyone away. Scarring is an understandably sensitive subject, so it makes more sense for people to come to me once they feel they are able to take part. There’s no pressure. We do get people whose resolve fails them on the day. But that’s only to be expected.
It’s important to me that the project is an honest depiction of scarring, both big and small. I want people to understand that regardless of size, the scars have emotionally and physically affected the person that wears them.
Which of the shoots or stories has affected you the most?
Some of the stories are poignant, some funny, some heartbreaking… It would be impossible for me to single one out. In some way I have been affected by them all, and taken a lot respect, empathy, humility, and love away from shooting the series.
I think it is important to wear your scars with pride. You have overcome something, survived and come out on the other side. The scar left is part of that story, part of who you are. It should be embraced.
What has the reaction been like to the project?
So far the response has been amazing. People all over the world have really embraced what I am trying to achieve.
I’ve also gotten so much great feedback from people who have shown their scars in public for the first time. I think it has started to allow other people to look at their scars in a new light and with a new level of acceptance. Coming forward to be photographed can be part of the healing process for the models. They gain this extra self-confidence when they see the final images and realise, yes, they are beautiful.
What are your plans for the project in the future?
Ultimately, I would like to exhibit the series and perhaps publish the images and stories in a book. But for now, I just want to continue shooting. Up until recently I’ve funded the project myself, but as it has grown bigger I’ve had to book more and more shoots to include everyone who wants to be part of it. I needed to source funding from elsewhere, so I did an IndieGoGo campaign. It was a little experimental – it was the first time I’ve ever done one! – but it raised enough for a few more studio sessions.
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- Words: Michael Hornsby