Dazzling beauties

Boubacour Diallo (18)“I was born like this. It is God’s will. People sometimes laugh at me, but that doesn’t bother me. I am an honest Muslim. I don’t fear death.”

Last weekend I went to see the World Press Photo 2013 at Maastricht. I was impressed by most photographs, but one of the series really got me.
It was 'People of mercy', by Stephan Vanfleteren, a freelance photographer from Belgium.This serie won the first price in the category 'Staged Portrait Stories'. His portraits were beautiful and dreary at the same time. It's pure and raw. I loved watching at it, but I couldn't help being a little horror-struck.

Mamadou Saliou Barry (20)
“Five years ago a gate fell on my head, then I started to have problems with my right leg, and it was difficult to walk. Later it turned out that my problem wasn’t a head injury, but neurofibromatosis, a severe skin disease.”

'People of mercy' is a serie of portraits of people receiving treatment on 'Africa Mercy', a hospital ship docked at Conakry, Guinea. People with all kinds of diseases or handicaps come here to get treatment. The photographer, Stephan, decided to show these portraits to the world, but on condition that the story of the person in the photograph would be featured as well. All these portraits are portraits of PEOPLE in the end, not just ugly creatures which make you sick. No, they are genuine people with genuine stories and believes. And I think that was the thing that hit me. I couldn't take my eyes of these portraits, despite the fact that I was a bit disgusted myself. 

 Fofana Mamadou (52)
“It doesn’t hurt, but it’s not a beautiful sight. People laugh. I can cover my body, but not my face. My wife left me, because she could not live with a man like me.”

And then I felt ashamed because I was disgusted. All these people didn't chose for a body like this and they're ashamed of their bodies as well. It's just unfair that we judge people by their (gruesome) appearance, even though we don't know where they come from, how they are and what they stand for. This serie of portraits got me thinking of this fact and (as you might know) I really like to philosophize about things like this.

Why do people shiver when they see these photographs? Why is this called 'ugly' or even 'disgusting'? Are we living in a world where everybody has to be perfect to be accepted? These people are human too, they have feelings too and they are just the same as every other people. The only things is that their appearance isn't as 'it's supposed to be'.

Thierno Malal Diallo (38)
“Five years ago, I felt something on my face. It was growing fast and started to hurt.”
Prior to an operation for severe ameloblastoma (tumor of the jaw), Thierno could not speak, and could barely breathe.  The operation, which offered only a 50 percent chance of alleviating his condition, was successful, and further surgery is to follow.

Especially this photograph above shocked me. I didn't know people could look like this and could even find the braveness to pose for a photograph. I'm having so much respect for all these people. Not just because they are all fighters, but also because of the fact they all agreed on being photographed so the world could see their appearance as well.

Makone Soumaoro (30)
“My neck doesn’t hurt, but I worry that it swells so much. I hope it is not a tumor, because I’m a housewife and my husband and children need me.”

I wanted to show these portraits on my blog, because this is appearance as well. Appearance is not just about fashion and make-up. It's about what people look like, even when it's shocking. To be honest, that other side of appearance is far more interesting if you ask me. Such a shame most people won't understand that and decide to chose for a world in which everything has to be 'perfect'. That's why I called them dazzling beauties as well: they are all beautiful in their own way.

(Photographs: Stephan Vanfleteren, World Press Photo 2013) 

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