Smile Politely

Beauty lies in vulnerable places

“Beauty comes from our humanity, our vulnerability, and our passions in life.”

So says the Facebook event page for BARE, a photography project created by Emily Otnes, Anna Longworth, and Alisa Greene. The project, which has its gallery opening at Indi go Gallyer on August 15th, will have a fundraiser August 2nd at Pizza M in Downtown Urbana.

I reached out to Ms. Otnes, who in turn contacted her co-organizers, to get as much information about the project as I could. What I learned makes me hope that this project is an enormous success, not just because of its artistic merits and positive intentions, but also because of its potential impact on Champaign-Urbana itself.

Does that sound grandiose? Read on.

Smile Politely: Emily, you’re probably best known locally (and beyond) for music. How long have you been interested in/pursuing photography?

Emily Otnes: You know, it’s funny — I’m actually not too into photography personally. Not to say that I don’t enjoy or appreciate it — I’ve just never spent any time doing it myself. Anna Longworth, the photographer for the project, is definitely more in charge of that aspect.

I’m more into collaborating creatively and organizing events — anything that brings the community together. With BARE, I hoped Anna’s and my collective abilities would shed some light on the ordinary to make it extraordinary. That’s my role in the BARE project: just putting things together here and there to help all the participants and elements reach their full potential.

SP: Anna and Alisa? How long have you been pursuing photography as an art?

Anna Longworth: I remember in kindergarten, we were asked to draw what we wanted to be when we grew up. I drew an artist at an easel. I have always been interested in creating and the arts, but the first time I remember making photography my main tool in art was in high school. My dad bought a nicer camera, and I always found myself borrowing it to try and see what I could photograph in an interesting manner. That developed into people asking me to take photos of them, and my hobby eventually turned into something I could do as a career. I now photograph primarily weddings and portraits of people, so this project has been a great change in emotional pace.

Alisa Greene: I have been seriously pursuing photography for about six years now. Although still, to this day, I would not consider myself a professional, I’d like to think that I know what I am doing. Photography has become a part of my everyday life and has allowed me to see the world in a new set of light. It has also given me the opportunity to constantly meet new people and get involved with other artists and collaborate, such as through this project. Because of this, photography has truly helped shape me into who I am today.

SP: What was the impetus for the BARE project? Has this always been an issue you identified with, or was this spurred on by a particular event?

Otnes: I remember talking to Anna and Alisa about this idea casually for the first time once when we were all hanging out, and immediately realizing that all of us were very passionate about it. I believe that people spend much of their lives forming themselves into what they think they should be, perhaps because of societal expectations, how they were raised, what their friends or peers think. And that, to me, is one of the saddest things about our world: that people let a group define an individual. People feel they have to hide their true selves, and there is always more to a person than what they show initially. BARE is just one way to highlight those places of vulnerability. We want to show that beauty often lies in the most vulnerable places.

Longworth: For me, BARE is a way to kind of “fight back” against all the self hate the world experiences. Hating my self and my body has been a very prevalent theme in my life, so I’m desperate to get out of the vicious cycle, and I thought we could help others who struggle with the same thing. It’s hard to live life as a happy person when you aren’t too fond of yourself, so we want to start loving ourselves and helping the community love themselves as well. When we first discussed pursuing this project, I remember opening up to the girls about the issues I have had with accepting myself all my life and I remember being amazed at how understanding they were, and how much they could relate. So if I could be inspired by a few of my close friends, why can’t a whole community be inspired by this project? That is my main motivation for BARE.

Greene: The idea of the BARE project came to us one evening when we found ourselves discussing our lives, events, and what’s made us into who we are today. As the subject began to deepen, we quickly realized that although we are all independent artists who outwardly appear to have strong self-confidence, all three of us struggled with some kind of self-cautiousness about ourselves, further realizing that if we feel this way there must be many others who are in the same kind of situation. BARE is a project which we believe anybody can relate to, and, I think all three of us have always had a connection to the subject.

SP: How did you go about assembling the artists who would participate?

Otnes: The people participating are not necessarily artists, although I’m sure that some of them are. We have around 40 members of the community participating that we acquired through social media, posters around town, information on Anna’s website, and word of mouth. Everyone who is participating is doing it for uniquely personal reasons, whether it be to overcome a struggle or show off some quirky part of their life. One girl brought in her pet rat, and we had a lot of fun with her, although it did make a mess on the floor a few times. Anyway, these people are all wonderful and come from completely different stories. We are so lucky to have them excited and involved.

SP: Assuming that you are among the artists participating in the project as a photographer, how did you decide upon your subject and how best to capture it?

Otnes: I am not a photographer in this project, as in I don’t take the photos physically, but I did help coordinate some creative elements and help people pose. Anna and the participants are the most in charge of how their photos looked. The subjects brought props from their lives, and Anna talked back and forth with them about what they were going for. She’d show them the shots in the process and move them around the room. For one girl who was a dancer, we even turned on music to help her get more comfortable! So it was very dependent on the person in the shot, I’d say.

I was originally going to pose with my guitar, but I actually decided against it. I felt that that didn’t say much about me that people didn’t already know, and so I chose to pose completely nude with writing all over my hands. I felt that reflected my passion for writing, but also my tendency to forget things and need everyday reminders—something I am actually very self-conscious about.

SP: Is there a plan for the event beyond the event? Will BARE live on after the gallery showing?

Otnes: We plan to create some sort of online representation of the project so people all over the world will have access to it. Who knows, maybe someone across the globe will find it enlightening.

SP: Do you have another project lined up?

Longworth: We don’t currently have any plans for the project after the gallery showing, but hope that the impact of photos and stories of these amazing individuals who have made themselves so vulnerable to the public will have a lasting effect on those who come experience BARE.

Otnes: We are pretty swamped as is with getting all this organized. But I’m sure that Anna will have some great ideas for the future. This is just the beginning.


The gallery event opening August 15th and will run through August 27th.  The doors will open at 6:30 p.m., and the evening will feature — in addition to stunning photography — refreshments and live music.

Ruben Quesada, a writer and professor at Eastern Illinois University, will speak at the fundraising event on August 2nd. There will also be raffles and opportunities to sponsor some of the prints of the BARE participants.

This is a great opportunity for community members and supporters of the arts to provide encouragement to their neighbors. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s a way to see the beauty in the work, the people, and hopefully themselves.

Photos by Anna Longworth and Alisa Greene

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