this photographer takes intimate portraits of people with scars

From burns caused by domestic abuse to post-surgical wounds, Sophie Mayanne’s Behind the Scars series is a wonderful celebration of the unique beauty of scars and the powerful stories of recovery and acceptance behind them

by George Douglas-Davies
24 April 2018, 9:32am

In popular film culture, facial scarring is shorthand for evil — a defect reflective of the flaws within. Just think about it, there’s Scar in The Lion King, Batman’s The Joker, Dr Evil and most Bond villains worth their salt. Beyond the screen, we seem to view scars with a mix of fear and fascination. What is that? How did it happen? Does it still hurt? What does it feel like? One person seeking to change this stereotype is Cardiff-born photographer Sophie Mayanne, whose Behind the Scars portrait series is a celebration of the unique beauty of scars and the stories of recovery and acceptance behind them.

“When I was young, I pulled a cup of hot boiling tea off the counter. As a result, it burnt my left shoulder down to my left breast and stomach. My scar has been with me since I was 11 months old -- it is all I know, I don’t even remember my body without a scar. I have my confident days where I say, "It’s just a scar.” I’m sure everyone has a scar. I’ve definitely had my bad days, but only when I meet a new face and they stare at it in disgust. It makes me think, OMG is there something on my body? And then I remember the burn, lol. I wear this scar because it is a part of me. It’s just a scar." Bintu

“I’ve always been interested in the individual,” Sophie says. “As a photographer, I have the ability to influence people with the work I create. I could stick to showing one kind of beauty or I could be honest and diverse. Behind the Scars celebrates scars of all shapes and sizes, and the stories behind them. It features men, women and children, surgical scars, accidental scars... I think it gives people an insight into the resilience of the human mind, and body, and recognizes people’s journeys to self-acceptance and the changes you can go through in life. For many people sitting for a photograph is a trophy of the journey they’ve been on. The stories show courage, acceptance, and beauty in all forms.”

"The last few months have been extremely challenging as the condition of my skin has deteriorated massively. From 18 months old, when I was diagnosed with epidermolysis bullosa to earlier this year, I was able to live an almost normal life despite my skin, it was easy to hide and easy to manage. But earlier this year it started getting rapidly worse and I am now able to do less of the things I once could. My confidence and self-esteem is almost non existent most of the time. So much of my day is spent managing my skin or being in pain from it. But now more than ever I need to remind myself that I am still the same old me. I am still beautiful and this condition that I will be lumbered with for the rest of my life does not define me as a person. It will always be a huge part of my life but I will never let it take over my life. EB is so rare that there is so little awareness for it and in a lot of cases it is life threatening, so I'm posting this not only for me but for everyone suffering. Because of the lack of awareness, the funding towards trials and research is so limited that I probably will never access a cure. As much as that upsets me, I just hope that future children will get access to more treatment and a possible cure." Maya

Sophie’s subjects range from babies like the beautiful Faith — whose keloid zipper scar is testament to the loving nurses and doctors who cared for her during and after open-heart surgery — to Rob, whose ear was bitten in a bar fight. “I do my best to encapsulate the person’s personality. I want you to look at the photograph, see their smile, understand their story and take something away from it. One touching image features Rosie Mallows, who suffered a serious motorbike accident, and poetically explains how she began to see her scars as a map of her life.

“My scars are from a fire related to domestic abuse. I got burnt at the age of 29, and it’s been a difficult journey coming to terms with it. The comfort I take from my scars is they make me who I am today. I call them my most precious, and expensive piece of jewellery I own. I have survived and if having my picture taken and exposing my scars can help anyone else, then that’s good for me!”

“Everybody I shoot writes up their story in an exercise book beforehand," Sophie explains. "There is sometimes a bit of nervous giggling involved, and quite often we end up using the reflector to create wind, so everyone has a bit of fun on the shoot.” However, even with her photographic experience Sophie can still find the process a little tricky. “Sometimes I have really creative challenges of trying to get scars on opposite sides of the body in the same photograph, which often results in some weird and wonderful posing, which always ends in laughter. It’s a massive privilege to share in their stories, and as the project has grown people have begun to support each other in the comments, and connect with others who have had similar experiences. So the whole process from the photoshoot to posting an image on Instagram is really beautiful!”

“In one way or another, my scars are all self-inflicted. The scars from self-harm cover the tops of my legs, and hints are on my arm. I am a trans man and started medically transitioning a year and a half ago. In May 2016 I had top surgery (double mastectomy) to remove my breasts. These scars are my new chest, the chest I have always wanted. They are my gender, my identity. I can’t remember having any other chest now. I have been liberated. These scars represent so much of what I have experienced.” Elijah

Only a year into the project, Sophie has a long way to go. Her current aim is to photograph 1000 people, all with a unique story to tell, and hopefully turn it into a book. “Ultimately, I want to continue sharing more diverse content, creating imagery that is inclusive, that represents men, women and children of all walks of life, abilities, color, size... I want to create an environment where people to co-exist in a photograph without fear of being compared. Hopefully the more imagery that exists challenging beauty ideals, the more of a shift we will see.

Until then, Sophie's Behind the Scars series will be on show in York at the Norman Rea Gallery from May 7th

"In the summer of 2015 I was in a house fire. My clothes and way of life went up in flames. I spent my summer in a burns unit on Fulham Road. My scars and scar tissue continue to change, but I have never felt more beautiful." Isabella
"In 2014 I was diagnosed with angiosarcoma of the breast, a rare and aggressive cancer. Three surgeries and two chemotherapy treatments later these are the scars I bear. My recent operation was an innovative surgery which involved removal of my sternum and four ribs, which were replaced by surgical cement, muscle from my back and a skin graft. It took me a long time to finally embrace my scars. They document my journey and the courage and strength I did not think I had. Recently I was told the cancer had returned. Surprisingly I feel at peace.” Barbara
“I started self-harming when I was 13 and have struggled with it ever since. The issue with self-harming is it gets progressively worse and you end up doing more and more damage to yourself than you think is possible when you first start. It truly is an addiction and you get to a point where surgeons tell you that plastic surgery can’t fix the appearance of the scars, so the only thing you can do is love your scars so much that all the negative connections that come along with self-harm slowly disappear - along with all the pain attached to the scars. My scars tell my story, and I’m never going to let anyone else’s thoughts or opinions change that.“ Chloe

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

sophie mayanne
Behind the scars