These self-portraits began with one year of photographing myself as I experienced chronic illness and, primarily, recovered from surgery. I photographed my healing scars and my life with those scars and presented these images to friends through Instagram and Facebook. As my healing progressed, the reactions of those who took my scars at face value drove me towards a different narrative: one of healing as a lifelong and universally relatable process, less tied to scars than to identity.
I began to explore the body language and inadvertent messages that remain when I photograph my healing body without explicitly including the physical wounds. In covering my scars I uncovered themes of affectation, evasion, and discomfort as well as self-awareness, poise, and resilience. Recognizing that I am neither sickly nor immune to damage, I experiment with draped cloth costumes, which when molded, re-folded, and altered, can transform me into any state of mind: exposed, invincible, or somewhere in between. I see myself as a soul-searching woman, hiding, concealing, revealing and adorning herself with fabric: first a curtain drawn, then a twisted rope; a hospital gown or a ballgown; sheath or shaper. This work is intended to address recovery as a self-aware and sometimes painful process through which we mend, unmend, hide, emerge, lean upon others, evolve, and reinvent ourselves in search of a narrative for our healing experience.
At 26 I opted for a surgery to potentially, one day, save my heart. It was all at once comforting, terrifying, scarring, and curative. I addressed the complexity of this journey by photographing myself every day, starting the day after my surgery. Even when I could barely walk I was taking photos, not because it was a challenge but because it was a relief.
My wardrobe and backdrops made from draped fabric are inspired by traditions of European painting from the Baroque era to early Impressionism. Fabric backdrops allow me to create a diorama of sorts in which to install my human still-lifes. Inspired by the elaborate use of costume and gesture in an exhibit of the Pre-Raphaelites at the National Gallery of Art in London, I have transformed myself into the heroine of my own anti-tragedy: an Ophelia risen from the lake.
"In shadow and in light, [Sarah Belclaire] pulls back the curtain on invisible illness and shows her scars."
-Lauren Freedman, Uninvisible podcast