Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is more than skin deep. Beauty is truth, and truth is beauty.
But do you know what else beauty is? It’s imperfect.
Or, to hear Scott Church tell it, imperfection is beauty. His latest project explores the true meaning of beauty, the societal influences on the concept, and the universal aspects of the notion, in a way only Scott Church can.
“I’m not even going to call it beauty,” said Church, during an intimate interview with LebTown from his downtown Lebanon studio. “The things I find attractive are my own, and they come from hundreds of different influences throughout my life. The things I find attractive in a person aren’t always the standard of beauty. I love the diversity of my work because I’m able to make such a diverse group of people look beautiful. I feel lucky that I’m able to see the good in everything I look at.
“The message is we’re all beautiful,” continued Church. “Everyone is beautiful in their own way. It’s meant to bring us together, because of our differences.”
A 48-year-old native and resident of Lebanon, Church is about a month into his new project “Make Me Hate Me,” short for “these are the things that make me hate me.” The project will initially feature a coffee-table book made up of photos and written stories about ordinary people and their flaws, one which could also include a documentary at a later date.
Church is a world-renowned photographer whose work has been published in dozens of national magazines, including adult publications Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler.
“Something I’ve learned in my 30 years of doing this is that everyone has something about themselves that they don’t like,” said Church. “When we look in the mirror, we all say ‘Ugh.’. It’s a universal trait. What I try to do with my art is bring people together. We’re all humanity. By focusing on things they don’t like, you find a whole new crowd of people who feel that way. When you feel like you’re not alone, it makes you feel better about yourself in general.
“I want people to look at the work in this project and see the beauty I see,” Church continued. “Despite your imperfections, you can still love yourself and love who you are, even if you’re not what people see as beauty. I think all beauty needs to be celebrated.”
Church’s intention is to celebrate the beauty of scars, cellulite, and deformities — things which our society might label “unattractive.”
Although he’s working under a soft deadline, Church said that he hopes to have the book completed in time for The Legacy Show at the Mulberry Arts Studio in Lancaster, scheduled for January of 2021. At this point, Church is self-publishing the book, but he said he would entertain interest from professional publishers.
“I believe in the concept because it’s a good idea, a positive idea,” said Church. “I’ve been working with a transgender man who had breast surgery. It’s a statement of who he is and the scars represent the change. By putting it out there, it will help people understand it more. If we understand people more, we won’t feel so different.
“I think all of these people are beautiful,” added Church. “All of their scars, and the things they don’t like about themselves make me love them more. I want everybody to see that.”
Currently, Church is seeking models for his project, all shapes, races and sizes. He said he would like to shoot at least 50 people for the book, and up to as many as a hundred.
“I’ve been kicking around the idea for at least a month, under quarantine,” said Church. “Since we made it public, I’ve had a flood of people interested in it. I’m trying my best not to turn anyone down. No one’s insecurity is less important than anyone else’s. I believe their stories should be told.
“The way I put it out to the world was, ‘What don’t you like about you? Are you willing to show it off the world?’” Church added. “It’s not a set group. It’s not just men. It’s not just women. I want the diversity. I’m going to try to represent as many people as I can.”
In addition to his photographic work, Church has published 14 other books, mostly featuring his photography. But none have approached the scope or topic of Make Me Hate Me.
“The other books weren’t all specifically centered around one idea,” said Church. “This is a one focused-idea book. This is different. It’s not based on the photos, it’s based on the stories. It’s not just the photos. It’s different because it’s based on how the subjects see themselves, not how I see them.
“As a portrait photographer, these are the things I would normally try to hide,” continued Church. “It’s a very, very different thing. When you’re shooting for Playboy or Hustler or Penthouse, you’re going to try to show people at their best. Now we’re focusing on the ‘flaws.’ We all have things in our head that we don’t like about our bodies.”
In that way, Make Me Hate Me is the perfect representation of Church’s evolution as an artist, and his maturation as a human being. In another way, he is attempting to break down cultural stereotypes of beauty that he may have helped perpetuate.
“I believe it’s rejecting the original ideas of my work,” said Church. “I believe my work was always leading me here. God made Photoshop so I can fix everybody. But that doesn’t mean [that’s how] we should be presenting ourselves to the world. We’re never going to be perfect.
“We all aspire to beauty, to a beauty standard,” Church continued. “Even what that girl looks like in that photo, there’s an hour that goes into make-up, and we won’t even talk about what she did to her hair. Beauty standards go all the way back into the history of recorded time. But we end up hurting ourselves in an attempt to beautify.”
If Make Me Hate Me is more about the subject than any of his previous work, then Church has a more personal stake in it as well. As a younger man, Church’s perceived imperfection centered around his body weight.
“There was a time when I was a lot heavier than I am now,” said Church. “I lost weight and since have gained some back. Like any 40-year-old man, they were things that came with age and a bad diet. That body image is my imperfection. I still have that inner ‘fat guy’ stuck in my head.
“I think the human body is perfect because it’s flawed,” Church added. “I’ve never met anyone who was 100 percent on board with themselves physically. The first thing for someone to focus on somebody else that’s negative is their looks. When kids would make fun of someone, it’s the skinny kid, it’s the fat kid, it’s the kid with big feet.”
As a creative thinker, Church’s next great idea is just right around the corner. But for now, all of his mental energies are concentrated on Make Me Hate Me.
“I’m completely focused on this project,” said Church. “I have no idea what I’m going to do next. This project came out of nowhere. When I made it public, that was overwhelming.
“I’m at a point in my career when I could exist off my greatest hits,” concluded Church. “I could play my old photos forever and have a really good career. I don’t want to do that. I’m going to want to challenge myself.”
Imperfection is one of the requirements of being human.
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