Recently we had a family reunion with my sister and mother, the kids wanted a pamper party with bath bombs and rainbow nails. An hour in my 5-year-old daughter asked “mummy what do they do” as I held a selection of facemasks. As I pondered the question and the potential impact my answer could have I read the text on the packets. “Purifying” “minimising” and “smoothing”. The ideals the beauty industry wishes to sell us. The ideals society has of women. To be purified, minimised and our imperfections smoothed out.

I for one have spent far to many hours trying to live up to these ideals that society and the beauty industry bombard us with every time we wander the cosmetic isles or see an advert. It’s slipped into our sub-conscience from an early age. In order to feel like we better fit into society we try wearing the masks we think are expected of us. This series of images was a way to look at the messages we internalise and attempt to comply with.

As a side note, this series ties in really well with the mirrors and windows analogy that we looked into in week 1 and also reminds me of John Berger’s theory that women see themselves not as themselves but as how the world perceives them.


I decided to choose lighting which mimicked the images seen in beauty adverts and magazines. Firstly, because I was using cosmetic face masks picked up from the beauty isles of my local Superdrug and secondly, I like the idea of the lighting removing all the shadows from the face. For me it felt synonymous with the beauty industry standards of perfection, having no flaws or shadow side. It’s also how we try and show ourselves to the world, without our shadow sides and our flaws, only wanting to show the lighter brighter sides of ourselves.

I wanted to show in the series how we try on many different masks in an attempt to seek perfection, be the perfect version of ourselves so that we can try and effortlessly fit into and be accepted by society.

I toyed with the idea that, as the images progressed through the series, the eyes would become closed as if to shut off the windows to the soul. Perhaps providing the narrative that in an attempt to seek perfection and shut out any “shadow” aspects of the true self, all that is left is the mask as the soul with all its depths and shadows are hidden and shut off to the world. 

I have considered whether the images would be more impactful with a much younger almost childlike model. Due to time restraints, I decided to try the concept out on myself first which has allowed me to play around and take my time altering the lighting. I think I will complete the series using myself as the subject to see what I make of it as an idea. In future, I would like to use models for my shoots more. I think right now I am not sure where to find one and I possibly lack the confidence to try out new things with a model present. Although I’d rather not photograph myself it does make learning quicker, easier and faster as I can step in anytime without much planning.

Initial Results

So far I have taken 2 images in the series.

I took the charcoal one first and then later added in white v flats before taking the “radiate” image.The v-flats and the white reflective card I held under my chin made the image much cleaner. I tried letting the masks dry but the images we’re very appealing and I preferred the we and shiny look of the masks as they seemed fresher and more in keeping with the concept.

I still have a selection of masks of various colours to try out and which Purify, Firm, Brighten and Minimise. There were also masks that claimed to “remove shine”, rejuvinate, anti-age, “reduce” pores and fine lines and transform.

I continued with the photo taking and captured a selection of different face masks. Some of them stung, some itched and some brought tears to my eyes and made me cry. Some even rendered my face unmoveable, removing all expression. I thought this was quite poignant given the message I was making with them.

Some of the masks worked better than others from an aesthetic point of view. In the series I wanted to use the sequence of masks used to tell a story. How we start out just wanting to simply tone a little or be more radiant but the end point becomes much bleaker as we buy into more and more messaging about how much of ourselves we feel the need to change. It felt fitting that the final image of the series should be minimise, showing that in the process we have over time minimised our true selves in order to conform to an unachievable aesthetic.


I really enjoyed our very first Webinar. It was a little nerve wracking sharing and talking about my own work for the first time but it felt really great to connect with the other students and see their work and hear the feedback from Michelle our tutor.

I really appreciated the comments that were made on my work. Kendra made an interesting point that “The hard set jawline matches the masculine shine of the darker mask. The softer drop jaw mouth line is almost angelic in the whiter mask.” I had not considered this contrast when looking at and critiquing the images and it’s interesting to consider how the images are contrasting and whether this adds or takes away from the effect of the series.

Michelle commented on how having the hair stripped back removed any distracting elements and focuses the gaze directly onto the mask/eyes. She also noted that the eyes are quite confrontational, looking directly at the viewer. Mentioned how this work might tie into cultural masks as a pay to present identities or the identities of gods/goddesses. She also made reference to the way the images were presented and mentioned how the work in the current Bristol Photo Festival is being presented and how I may at some future point want to consider the use of lightboxes/billboards with this concept. She also provided me with some artists that might be of interest based on this kind of work.

Gillian Wearing (work with masks)

In Gillian Wearing’s Secrets and Lies series she explores the disparities between public and private life, and notions of taboo, fear, and self-awareness. The masks were worn by people who responded to an advertisement asking for participants to tell all their secrets, whilst wearing a mask. The masks are somewhat gruesome to look at, as they look like the skin of someone else has been peeled off and stuck onto someone else, it is reminiscent of a horror movie. I like the concept of presenting as someone else in order to reveal your true identity.

Phillip Toledano. Series | A New Kind of Beauty

“I believe we are at the vanguard of a period of human-induced evolution.
A turning point in history where we are beginning to define not only our own concept of beauty, but of physicality itself.
Beauty has always been a currency, and now that we finally have the technological means to mint our own, what choices do we make?
Is beauty informed by contemporary culture? By history? Or is it defined by the surgeon’s hand?
When we re-make ourselves, are we revealing our true character, or are we stripping away our very identity?”

Vanessa Fairfax-Woods

I really admire Vanessa’s work. Her concepts are really interesting to me as are the subjects she chooses to explore.

Her F-word and So I Act Cold series explore topics which are very close to the ones I am also exploring in my work and I find Vanessa’s concepts on these topics both fascinating and inspiring.

Thomas Ruff – Framed portrait series

Sarah Lucas (mentioned in respect of another student but I’d like to look at her work)

Such an enjoyable webinar, I am really excited to look into the ideas and artists shared.