By Rachel Segal Hamilton
There are some photographs so unbearable to look at that you can’t take your eyes off them. The images in Laia Abril’s Thinspiration fanzine fit into this category. Her re-photographed pro-ana selfies show girls flaunting angular, emaciated bodies: impossibly wide thigh gaps, ribs straining through skin, jutting hipbones, and concave stomachs.
Laia’s work has focused on eating disorders since 2010. The latest chapter in her project, The Epilogue, is published this month and tells the story of an American girl called Mary Cameron “Cammy” Robinson, who died of bulimia at 26. Through interviews, photographs, and other found materials, the book reconstructs Cammy's life and the aftermath of her death, asking how the illness makes a person self-destruct and how it affects those around them.
I caught up with Laia over the phone to find out more.
VICE: Eating disorders are a big focus of your work. What drew you to this issue?
Laia Abril: It was inspired by personal experience and the fact that there’s a lack of information. If someone’s daughter has bulimia and they don’t see the signs, that girl might die of a heart attack and they’d never know she’d had an eating disorder.
Bulimia is also one of the most stigmatized eating disorders. It’s seen as shameful. My aim was to break these taboos. With photography we’re often documenting what happens in other societies—wars, poverty. I thought, Here’s another epidemic we could try to prevent.
LAIA ABRIL'S 'Thinspiration fanzine' seems to have upset at least one reader, they left the following reply to the aerticle. The issue's Ayla Eichler raise are very intresting as they question the context of meaning within the work. More importantly it brings up a bigger issue of intention vs outcomes in relation to such a highly charged body of work. What are the Moral obligation of the Artist ? if any ?
Taking pictures of pictures. How lazy and derivative. I hope the proceeds for this "fanzine" go to the ongoing treatment of the women you're exploiting, because I know at least a few of them and they would be mortified to find themselves in a book. How rude to imply that the women in these pictures are voluntarily doing this to themselves or that they are in support of "pro ana". Most of these pictures are hacked from private accounts and posted on pro-ana sites by strangers. Your two years of research failed you if you don't know that most of the pictures posted in those communities are not actually pictures of the members themselves. Most are private images that are hacked and circulated like trading cards. Thanks for taking it to another level and bringing their darkest moments into the broader public without their permission. Congratulations. I'm sure they appreciate the continual violation of their privacy and being branded as "wanting to be anorexic" or "pro ana".
One of the girls you used an image of is in the hospital right now and very much wants to get better. The specific image of her you used is one that she tries to get taken down from sites she finds it on and is hurt every time she sees it. I guess you can speak for her better than she can, I guess you know she "wants to get worse". When an artist wanted to display Jenifer Lawrence's nudes in an art gallery it was a sex crime, but when its every day people with a life threatening mental illness its okay? Where is the public outcry for them? I hope you're satisfied with yourself. Just enjoy the freak show. Its not "shocking" its morally reprehensible.