By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Local photographer, Meagan Elemans is providing a space to heal and be seen through her work as a photographer.
Her ongoing creative project titled, “For the Belly” captures participants, and their bellies, through a non-judgmental lens; Something Elemans said is a focus of both her creative and client-based work. After starting her photography company Me Photo out of her Coalhurst home studio in 2019, she has endeavoured to capture her subjects “as they are.” She refers to her ongoing creative work with the belly as, “a labour of love,” which showcases the highly-politicized and loaded body part that is the abdomen.
“It’s important for me as a photographer to have something creatively alongside my client work so that I can remember why I do this.”
She said “For the Belly,” is a project which organically revealed itself to her, as a creative opportunity. Through physical work with a physiotherapist, Elemans said she became more aware of how the body reveals the impact of life-long measures to contain, and minimize the belly. Although this project is not gendered, her physiotherapist made her more aware of “how women at large have chronic diaphragmatic breathing issues,” which have profound impacts on the body, and psyche. She became aware of the correlation between shallow breathing and a persistent state of anxiety as a result of moving through the world constantly self-policing the natural state of the body and its breath, in an effort to keep the belly restrained. “I did my own self-portrait series where I tried to intentionally let my belly do the opposite of what we find in portraits. I tried to breathe in fully.”
Her approach to her work is to “demystify the body,” and in doing so, many participants find the process to be one of liberation. The radical inclusion of marginalized bodies subverts the expectations of portraiture, of which the cannon has historically prioritized depictions of the contemporary standards of beauty.
While there are theoretical and political considerations to approaching this kind of work, the choice to capture the images is, in and of itself, a sort of protest against systems of power which attribute value based on a narrow set of criteria. She said, “I think that giving anything that has been notoriously not allowed to (exist in the) spotlight, attention is a standalone mechanism,” to reclaim or validate something which carries with it, the weight of shame, and works to destabilize some of the politics of value which shroud the belly.
“It seems to be like a lot bigger for people than you think it is,” said Elemans, noting the process of shooting has been transformational for many participants. “It’s a really curious thing that the person participant goes through(…) a lot of them have like a very impactful moment, especially when they see the photos,” she explained.
“I think we’ve made a little bit of progress in terms of allowing people to exist with their bellies,” but added some of this acceptance comes with contingencies, noting some kinds of bodies/bellies are often tolerated, “as long as they don’t visually upset us.”
Shooting for the project is still underway, but Elemans said, “the goal is for it to become a book. We really want to gallery it after the book is completed,” adding a gallery space will also allow for a performance component.
Elemans said, “The only way that we’re gonna demystify something is by giving it oxygen. When a person steps into the space with a belly that has scars, or a B-shape belly, or one that doesn’t have a baby in it, we’re giving them the same room to exist in their body freely,” curating the physical, creative, and mental space for participants to finally fill their lungs fully with breath.
Meagan’s work can be found by visiting https://www.mephotography.ca/, or on instagram @__mephoto