After spending three months at a facial nerve clinic in Boston, photographer Sage Sohier left more knowledgable, having gained more insight on facial paralysis. With her, the photographer also took several visual mementos of patients she has met seeking treatment for their conditions. Her powerful portrait series titled About Face presents a number of people dealing with varying degrees of facial paralysis who have bravely overcome their vulnerability, if even for a brief moment, to “smile for the camera.”
Sohier shares her experience at the clinic with these people and says, “Most people I photograph are acutely aware of their imperfections and try to minimize them. Some have confided in me that, in their attempt to look more normal, they strive for impassivity and repress their smiles. They worry that this effort is altering who they are emotionally and affecting how other people respond to them.” They say a smile can brighten your day, but, as Sohier has found, a forced frown or muted facial expressions can also adversely impact one’s feelings.
The photographer’s intention behind the series is to not only feature people dealing with their medical afflictions and to highlight their courage, but to also present an unconventional practice in portraiture. For a style that relies heavily on exposing the face, often aligned with the symmetry of it, Sohier offers a new take on human beauty. There is also a very artistic quality to these powerful images. She says, ” When looking at someone with partial facial paralysis, we are in a sense seeing two versions of the same face at once, with each side conveying different emotions. Like gazing at a cubist painting, we observe multiple facets of someone in a single instant. As a visual artist, I find myself fascinated by the intensity of glimpsing two expressions simultaneously, a literal ‘two-facedness’ that mesmerizes by its terrible beauty.”