michele bisaillon uses mirrors to create ingenious feminist selfies
The California artist uses social media to share candid reflections of herself—and womanhood.
Like many teens and twenty-somethings, Michele Bisaillon fills her Instagram account with plenty of photos of herself. But the 28-year-old Silicon Valley artist has redefined the standard selfie: she uses a collection of more than 40 mirrors—from clear pink plastic to cloud-shaped—to uniquely capture and share fragments of her reflection. Three small mirrors placed on the back of her manicured hand, for example, exhibit just her eyes and mouth; a heart-shaped mirror in front of her chest reveals that she is looking out at the ocean. "I use mirrors because they offer multiple perspectives, which is something that I think is extremely important to be reminded of," Michele explains. "I like to break up the body using mirrors for similar reasons." In turning her gaze upon herself, Michele is also able to present a truer portrait of who she is. "I don't agree that showing your whole body is the same as showing your whole self," she says. "We see full-body photos of people all the time, but that doesn't mean we know anything about that person." Indeed, Michele's photos are more intimate and informative than most—the viewer experiences exactly how she sees herself and her world. For that reason, her work is also empowering. "I want to communicate many things, but a big part of what I'd like to share is that our bodies are beautiful," Michele explains in the following interview. "I want to show that the way we are is not something we can always control, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy it. We are the way we are, and it's a good thing."
When were you first interested in photography?
The very first experience I had with photography was a Barbie camera my mom gave me as a gift when I was 5 or 6. I really loved taking photos of landscapes and objects. I have this distinct memory of being angry at myself for not realizing that the viewfinder was actually pretty far away from the lens (it was one of those long, thin, point-and-shoot cameras where the viewfinder is like two inches to the left or right of the actual lens). It made me want to figure out how to use a camera properly in order to make photos look the way I wanted them to.
When did you first start sharing images of yourself on Instagram? Why did you turn your gaze upon yourself, instead of photographing other girls?
When I was in high school, my friends and I would take photos of each other and share them on LiveJournal and Myspace, so taking photos and sharing them on Instagram felt natural to me. I think in all honesty, I use myself in my photos because I'm the most available subject. If I'm at home or by myself and I get inspired, I can just go do it. I don't always plan my photos ahead of time so it's just easier to use myself. I like to take my time and there's less pressure that way.
How is your work a response to digitally altered images of women? Why is it important to you to show unedited work?
We edit ourselves all the time. We decide to say some things but not other things, we wear clothes and makeup, we portray ourselves in particular ways. Editing ourselves is something humans have done for centuries and that isn't always an issue. I think the problem comes in when heavily altered images are being used to sell products and basically breed insecurity in us, especially women. We are held to an impossible standard and it makes us hate ourselves. It's important to me to find some way to feel positive about myself and to show others that they can feel that way too, without creating an entirely false version of that.
Do you think there is a correlation between selfies and self worth?
I think for some people there is. Taking photos that I like of myself does end up making me feel better about myself. I think it's so important for people, especially women, to feel comfortable in their own skin. It's something I've struggled with for a long time. You can do so much more when you feel good about yourself.
What about girlhood or womanhood are you trying to communicate through your work? Is there power in women creating their own images of themselves?
There is power in women creating. Women having the confidence to do what they love, and fighting for the ability to do so, is what breaks new ground for future generations. I want to communicate many things, but a big part of what I'd like to share is that our bodies are beautiful. Our bodies are amazing products of millions of years of evolution. I want to show that the way they are is not something we can always control, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy it. We are the way we are, and it's a good thing.
In the past, feminists rejected pink and pastel colors because they were associated with stereotypes and gendered toys. But now, more and more female artists, like you, are re-appropriating these colors in their work. Why do you think that is? Is it a way to say you can be both feminine and feminist? Is there power in pink?
I think there is power in what you love. Humans are so multifaceted. We have the ability to enjoy endless different things. We have masculine sides; we also have feminine sides. I think what's important is being true to yourself. If you truly like something or find something beautiful, there is no shame in that. You can like pink and you can like blue. You don't have to choose a side. You can absolutely be feminine and be a feminist. Being feminist is about believing in and fighting for equality, not about which colors or type of clothing you prefer.
Text Zio Barritaux
Photography courtesy the artist