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Nude body photography as therapy


Colombian photographer Sebastián Pii found with his nude self-portraits a way to emotionally heal the body complexes carried by his viewers

When Bogotá photographer Sebastián Pii tried to explain to his family why he decided to photograph naked bodies and not weddings or baptisms, he defended his work as if citing a manifesto.

“Photography is the morphology of a product”, he told them.

“Photography is a narrative, it is a message, it is a concept.”

The interesting thing, however, is that he is the product, he is the narrative, he is the message, he is the concept.

Sebastián Pii has been exposing his own body, naked, in front of the camera for 10 years.

And it is his self-portrayed body, more than his photographic lens, the canvas he chose to convey a message about the wounds we carry on our skin.

"I have used my body as a conceptual language," Pii explains to El PAÍS one morning from his photography studio in the south of the capital, which he set up on the roof above his parents' apartment.

Sebastián Pii is his stage name now but he was born 29 years ago as Sebastián Castillo and as one of almost 150 people in the world reported with a rare genetic condition called Hallermann-Streiff.

His is a condition that generates, among several symptoms, facial and skull malformations, difficulties in gaining weight, or gaining height, or strengthening muscle mass.

Pii is a young man with a very thin face and thick glasses who speaks very confidently about his long fingers and his “reptilian” back.

Sebastián Pii is the stage name of Sebastián Castillo. Sebastián Pii

But what for others is abnormal, or ugly, for him it has been a process of resignifying what beauty means.

And what for others was very daring—undressing his striking morphology before the public—has been a process of therapy for him and for those who learn to observe him.

Sebastián Pii recently showed his naked body on the big screens of Colombian cinemas.

He did so as the lead in

Entre la Niebla

, a moving feature film by director Augusto Sandino that premiered earlier this year and won an award for best cinematography at the SXSW film festival in Austin, Texas.

There Pii plays "F", a peasant in the Andes mountains who is in the process of saying goodbye to his sick father in the midst of a cruel war environment.

"It's a visual poem," says Pii about this film with more symbols than dialogue, and in which the actor threw his naked body into a frozen Andean lagoon.

“When I saw the script and there wasn't a nude, I said 'I'm not here', there must be a nude so that you can see that Pii is [in the film],” he explains, speaking of himself in the third person.

“Pii is

a man

who portrays himself, Pii is

a man

who undresses, and if we are going to do it on the big screen, we are going to do it with all the powers, we are going to undress

this man

and we are going to put him in a lagoon , naked, many degrees below zero, because I am not going to do a project in which my artistic concept is not reflected”.

So it was.

Pii revealed himself before the Andean moor, ready to undress before all of Colombia.

Movie trailer: "Between the Fog"

Video: Augusto Sandino

The birth of an artistic concept

Pii, unsurprisingly, grew up with cruel comments around her.

At birth, the doctors, uninformed, told her parents that her son would not survive more than a few months and that it would be better to be in a hospital laboratory.

Growing up, at school, she heard comments like "don't touch it because [that genetic condition] rubs off on you."

Getting on a public bus, she felt the looks and murmurs among those who were looking at her with surprise.

Pii's artistic concept was born ten years ago, when she attended photography courses at a school called Zona Cinco and a teacher asked her students to take nude self-portraits.

She wanted the one behind the lens to be able to experience what the one in front of the lens feels like.

Pii agreed to the challenge of showing off her body, but she took the exercise almost like therapy: she learned to recognize that she didn't really like the shape of her skinny feet or the scars on her knees, but she did like her long pianist's hands, the large earlobes, and she thought her gaze was her true

sex appeal


The classmates didn't comment when Pii exposed her body to them, a serious blow to the ego.

But they did it later, discreetly and secretly: they wanted to tell her that they hated their own knees, or their hands, or her feet.

They wanted to tell him that they admired that someone could bare just what they would never dare.

"I understood that something was going on in their minds," says Pii.

He understood that undressing his body, far from the canons of social beauty, was not a therapy just for him.

"It was a phototherapy that I was not aware of deep down," says Pii.

“I realized that I was not the only one who healed, that the people who looked at my work also healed...that's where my work gains value, when the person remains silent, and analyzes himself, and begins to see what doesn't he likes himself, and begins to collide with his morals, with his beliefs, with his loneliness”.

Pii, by undressing, became a confessional about beauty, managed to target the complexes that viewers carry as crosses and in solitude.

Self-portraits of the Colombian photographer, Sebastián Pii.Sebastián Pii

In a country like Colombia that exports girdles to the entire world, is a world power in plastic surgery, and has among its sayings that

without boobs there is no paradise

, Pii found a way to question the diversity of bodies by taking off her clothes.

It is something similar to what activists of the body positive

movement have done

, with the exception that Pii has a genetic condition that a very small group in the world has.

When talking about his references, he mentions rather the Finnish photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen (who fuses parts of his nude body with natural landscapes), the Spanish photographer Ángela Burón (who makes surrealist nudes with his body that can appear with four hands), and the Mexican painter Frida Khalo who suffered from polio since she was a child and had a traffic accident so serious that she painted a large part of her paintings from bed, many of these self-portraits that reflected her injuries.

"I used to think she was the strangest person in the world," Khalo once said.

“But then I thought that there are so many people in the world.

There must be someone like me who feels weird and has flaws in the same way as me.”

A superpower in galleries

Pii speaks of that 'eureka' moment in photography school as a driving force behind his next steps.

She eventually uploaded her nudes to groups of photographers on Facebook, exhibited in some galleries, and refined and expanded her portfolio.

He experimented, for example, with some nudes in which he photographed his genitals next to two light bulbs, or two fruits, or two balloons, to talk about his sterility (another Hallermann-Streiff symptom).

He wanted to question that “concept of the macho, and of the chauvinist culture, where if one 'doesn't have the balls right he's not a man, and don't cry' '.

So I gave myself the pleasure of putting on the testicles I want.”

Another experiment was to photograph some beautiful models at the moment when they don't look perfect.

"I make people break their traditional beauty aesthetic, to make it real," he explains.

He takes so many photos of them in one session and demands so many poses that despair eventually appears on their faces.

“The desperation of being, wanting to return to a stable and comfortable place,” says Pii.

The despair of wanting outside of perfection.

Exhibitions or cinema have made this photographer and actor a person who constantly thinks about beauty.

He explains that he chose Pii as his stage name in part because that mathematical symbol expresses "the perfection that is imperfect, that is so infinite that it is never completely perfect, but that fits perfectly on the circumference."

Another time he thinks about beauty is when he works as a commercial photographer, taking photos of food or families or products, to survive.

"My artistic photography is very transgressive, it has no retouching," says Pii.

“The other [commercial] side is perfectionist: perfect skin, amazing product, the well-kept, well-planted plate that looks divine.

I dominate both techniques, but obviously there is one that feeds me and there is another that fills my soul”.

Photographs from his series "Pandemic".Sebastián Pii

"Beauty doesn't fill you up, being pretty compared to the canons of beauty established by advertising, by society," she adds.

Family, friends, advertising, culture or narco-culture have established some ideal of beauty, but Pii wants to break all canons.

“Not all flowers are the same, do you understand me?” asks Pii.

“If people don't realize that a flower doesn't have to be pretty, closed and perfect, then they feel self-conscious about living their sexuality or their desire.

And feeling desire should be a right, not an option."

But perhaps the most transgressive thing about Pii is trying to turn around what we try to categorize as normal, like her body;

and denormalize what we have normalized, such as physical violence, or poverty.

“It seems unfair to me that they normalize homelessness, they normalize the person on a bridge asking for money with a child,” she says.

"I, on the other hand, don't feel like it should be cause for pity."

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Source: elparis

All life articles on 2022-05-22

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