Century Project challenges stereotypes of the female body

The Century Project is a remarkable exhibition that challenges stereotypical views of the female body, the nature of voyeurism, and the cycle of aging.

Featuring 70 photographs of unclothed girls and woman in chronological order-from a newborn baby to a woman in her 90s-it is designed to provoke thought and discussion about subjects that are often taboo in our society, such as aging, nudity, violence, heath issues, and the portrayal of women in the media. Most of the photographs are accompanied by intensely personal, and often moving, written statements by the subjects about their bodies and their experience of being photographed.

Week of Events Scheduled for UCSC and Downtown Santa Cruz: April 12-18
The Institute for Advanced Feminist Research (IAFR) at UC Santa Cruz will present the Century Project April 12-15 at Kresge College on campus, and April 16-18 at the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Santa Cruz. This marks the first large-scale public event for the new institute, which has been primarily in the planning stage since its founding in 2001. IAFR director Helene Moglen, a professor of literature at UCSC, said that the exhibit has toured nationally in galleries, colleges, and universities, noting that the photographs are often used by therapists and counselors.

"In their statements, some of the women discuss what it means to have been abused as children and how they view their bodies differently as a result of participating in the project," Moglen said. "They describe how they are now able to see themselves not just as abused bodies, but in other more positive ways. There is an impressive range of women represented in the exhibition, including some who have had mastectomies, and others who are self-cutters, anorexic, or disabled."

"It's very surprising to me; I would not have expected girls and women to seek out this form of expression," Moglen added. "One thing I realized as I looked at the photos for the first time is that the real taboo body in our culture-the body we have least exposure to and perhaps the most anxiety about-is the unclothed body of the old woman."

Moglen pointed out that the exhibit contradicts the common stereotype of the glamorous young woman and the rather reticent older woman.

"It's remarkable how sad many of the young women in the exhibition seem, and how much discontent they express about their bodies-even though they are often regarded as beautiful," Moglen observed. "And it's amazing that the older women in their 80s and 90s are so comfortable, even joyous, in their bodies."

As part of the exhibition, Moglen said there would be a number of panels and discussions held throughout the week on a variety of issues, ranging from body image to the responsibilities of the photographer in taking these types of photos. Speakers will include Dr. Catherine Forest, associate physician at UCSC's Cowell Student Health Center; Eileen Zurbrigger, UCSC assistant professor of psychology, Donna Hunter, UCSC associate professor of art history; and Century Project photographer Frank Cordelle.

"Another very interesting thing about this exhibition is that you have a male photographer taking photographs of unclothed women," Moglen said. "But there's a great difference when photographs of this sort are accompanied by personal statements. Because there are comments with the images, the women become the subjects, not the objects of the photographs."

"That raises interesting questions about the conditions that produce voyeurism and how we can change that voyeuristic circuit of looking," she added. "Men may come to Century looking for the naked or the nude body, and they might find instead the body that is unclothed."

Cordelle has been working on the Century Project for the past 20 years and hopes to have it published in book form in the near future. He has worked as a freelance photographer for a variety of ad agencies and magazines, including Life and Newsweek, and has had more than 50 magazine covers published throughout his professional career.

Moglen noted that the ultimate purpose in bringing the exhibit to Santa Cruz is to promote thoughtful discussion that will cross generations--from high school age students to retired senior citizens. She added that the mission of UCSC's Institute for Advanced Feminist Research is to help build bridges, not only between research and activism, but also between the campus and the community.

"When you think of body image these days, you think of what an important phenomenon it is in our culture right now, particularly with piercing, tattoos, and plastic surgery across age groups," Moglen said. "This exhibit provides the community with an opportunity to talk cross-generationally about all of these issues. The immediacy of the photographs is quite powerful in provoking conversations and debate."


The Century Project will be on display Monday, April 12, through Thursday, April 15, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m at UCSC's Kresge College 159. It will be at the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Santa Cruz on Friday, April 16, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as on Saturday and Sunday, April 17-18, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. This event is co-sponsored by the UCSC Institute for Humanities Research and Center for Cultural Studies, the Humanities Division, the Women's Studies Department, and the Women's Center. For more information, call (831) 459-3882.

Schedule of Events

Monday, April 12.

Introduction of Exhibit by Frank Cordelle, Photographer, 5 p.m., Kresge 159.

Tuesday, April 13

Impression/Impact of Century Project: Discussion

Dr. Catherine Forest, Health Center, 4:30-5:30 p.m., Kresge Red Room

Wednesday, April 14

The Use of Unclothed Children as Photographic Models

Eileen Zurbrigger, Assistant Professor of Psychology, 4-5 p.m., Kresge Red Room

Thursday, April 15

A Dialogue about Body Image

Peg Shemaria-Hedman, Psychologist-Counseling Services, 4-5:30 p.m., Kresge Red Rm.

Friday, April 16

Exhibition opens at Veterans Memorial Hall

Post Room, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Saturday, April 17

The Unclothed Body

Frank Cordelle, Photographer; E. G. Crichton, Associate Professor of Art, and Donna Hunter, Associate Professor of Art History, 3-4:30 p.m., Veterans Memorial Hall

Sunday, April 18

Open Mic

3-5 p.m, Veterans Memorial Hall

*Note to Reporters: IAFR director Helene Moglen, (831) 423-5089, and Century Project photographer Frank Cordelle (fcord@earthlink.net) may be contacted directly for interviews.