Not a subject you often see in paintings...
June 21, 2006 6:05 PM   Subscribe

The young people that have volunteered for this series have all endured physical pain and personal tragedy. They have developed a strong sense of 'self ' at an early age in order to survive public alienation due to their appearance.

Doug Auld's State of Grace - Paintings of Burn Survivors. via
posted by dobbs (26 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Fear of fire made flesh. Awe inspiring.
posted by Rumple at 6:19 PM on June 21, 2006

I thought about posting this after I read a recent article in the NYT, but at the time the website was "under construction."

I'm glad it got posted because it's truly awesome. Beautiful work out of such a powerful subject.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:30 PM on June 21, 2006

seems somehow exploitative, but if the models don't think so, I guess I can't object. At the same time, the decision to paint in a near photo realistic manner the degree of injury suffered by these people rather than to simply photograph them strikes me as a decision made to avoid accusations of exploitation. Besides, they look previsualizations for a B horror movie. I know they depict actual human suffering, but the medium and presentation some how abort the more human response that seeing such deformities in person would provoke. As art, I find it successful primarily because it engenders this (minor) internal conflict. But who am I to judge?

Nice link, dobbs, thanks.
posted by Grod at 6:34 PM on June 21, 2006

Amazing. I have a fear of burn scars (sort of. long story.) and expected to be freaked out. The paintings are beautiful, though, to my surprise. Incredibly beautiful - not just the strength of these individuals, but there's a sensitive, sculptural beauty around how the burns changed their features.

(the stories are really hard to read, though)
posted by kalimac at 6:46 PM on June 21, 2006

Those are entrancing.

I don't really feel the "fear of fire made flesh" and "B horror movie" aspects of the portraits as much, because while they're dead serious, there's also a little bit of glorification, in a sense, going on. As if by looking at the pictures you can imagine these people becoming really powerful, hardcore performers. It's kind of a shallow reaction, I know, but it's there, it came from the way these subjects are treated (when I clicked on the link I expected something expressionistic), and I don't know what to do with it – but the painter imbued these wounds with a kind of charisma.
posted by furiousthought at 6:49 PM on June 21, 2006

Awe inspiring.

Couldn't have said it better or simpler. Great post.

Funny, but I felt that no matter how bad their burns were, their eyes were still the focal point of the painting.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 6:51 PM on June 21, 2006

I made a series of eerily similar pictures of burn survivors using a large format camera at a burn conference. For various reasons they are not available on the web, but you can download a .zip file here:

Sorry for the self-link but relevant I think.

it was a hell of a weekend, by the way. Those guys PARTY.
posted by unSane at 6:59 PM on June 21, 2006

that's a temporary link by the way, just for the purposes of this thread
posted by unSane at 7:01 PM on June 21, 2006

Both UnSane's photo set and the linked paintings are remarkable. Thank you for sharing them. Of particular interest were the stories that go along with Auld's photo set. None of the folks in the photos seem to have let their scars prevent them from active and worthwhile lives. Of course, why should the scars prevent them from doing that?
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:19 PM on June 21, 2006

...deep breath...
posted by fluffycreature at 7:21 PM on June 21, 2006

I put up a slightly edited Flickr set which is easier to view here:

Apologies for the derail, didn't want to hijack this thread. However if anyone has questions about this stuff I'm happy to answer.
posted by unSane at 7:23 PM on June 21, 2006

There's something quite powerful about the paintings as well as unSane's photos. Interesting - thanks for the links.
posted by Ostara at 7:34 PM on June 21, 2006

Having been a firefighter, and having seen flesh hang from body and bone...I guess this doesn't bother me as it does some.

In fact, I truly see a certain beauty in the healing and transformation. It's not so much that the new forms of burn victims are attractive exactly, but that they are an example of the remarkable healing and redefinition the body is capable of.

Great post, at any rate.
posted by rollbiz at 8:08 PM on June 21, 2006

I found that after a few hours spent hanging out with the survivors, they all looked pretty normal to me. It certainly redefined my notions of the possible space of beautiful faces.
posted by unSane at 8:10 PM on June 21, 2006

UnSane, you are right -- the similarities between your work and Auld's are really remarkable. I like the directness you share very much.

I found both sets of portraits nonexploitative because they are so expressive and personal. Shayla, for instance -- her gaze is so direct, and the particular light he's painted makes the colors of her skin really very beautiful. The way UnSane captured Dwight's body language, the cock of his head and his expression, seems candid and spontaneous, more like a snapshot than a formal portrait, which must be quite difficult to do. The respect and liking that the artists have for their subjects couldn't be clearer to my eyes.

(UnSane, that link to your set is really about what makes Metafilter so very good, when it is good. Thanks so much.)
posted by melissa may at 8:23 PM on June 21, 2006

Wow, unSane, thanks for sharing the photos. They're incredible.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:49 PM on June 21, 2006

I found that after a few hours spent hanging out with the survivors, they all looked pretty normal to me. It certainly redefined my notions of the possible space of beautiful faces.

It took this thread to make me remember that my aunt is a burn victim, too. When she was a toddler, she started chewing on the wires behind the TV set. My dad, who was about ten, found her and pulled her away when the TV started flickering on and off. She's had a (fairly substantial) scar on the corner of her mouth ever since. To me, it's just a part of her - she's an attractive woman, and perhaps more striking because of her scar.

Anyways, thank you for posting these paintings and the photographs, both of you. They are both stunning, and they illuminate the human beings behind the scars.
posted by anjamu at 9:01 PM on June 21, 2006

unSane, I lurked for years on the StreetPhoto listserv and loved all the shots you posted, but these are definitely the best I've seen of yours. Thanks for posting them.
posted by barnacles at 10:53 PM on June 21, 2006

... and in the same vein as Anjamu, my great-grandmother was a burn victim, too. I was young, but I still remember her -- an oil lamp burst and burned the right half of her face when she was about 10. For the next 80 years, every photo of her was only taken from her left side, but she was still beautiful. Thanks for bringing back memories of her.
posted by barnacles at 11:06 PM on June 21, 2006

These are indeed amazing images, but I just can't fight back my hindbrain's OUCH reaction and get to the "beauty of the human body" part. I'm just stuck wincing and being unable to lean back in my chair.

May we all never know that pain.
posted by quite unimportant at 12:13 AM on June 22, 2006

Thank you.

I was mostly unaware of the existence of burn victims, except on a subconscious level, until my cousin was burned in a car crash when the engine caught fire. He was barely 18, just graduated from high school. The recovery process is hell on earth, and I have the utmost admiration and respect for those who have survived and gone through such trials. I, too, hardly notice that he is any different from anyone else anymore.

He also photographs other burn victims, particularly children at survivor camps, with beautiful and vibrant results, but sadly I don't think any are online.

Thank you for this inspiring and reflection-inducing link, as well as to unSane for your gorgeous photographs.
posted by po at 4:12 AM on June 22, 2006

My god, those are beautiful, thrilling, eye-opening photos, and the stories are horrifying and inspirational at the same time. What a combination. Thanks, dobbs. For what it's worth, I don't see any exploitative element at all. Yours are amazing too, unsane - the hands, the variety of expressions, all of it. And I loved the part about your surprise at the number of folks who wanted their portraits taken. Thanks for making them available.
posted by mediareport at 6:15 AM on June 22, 2006

Beautiful pictures, bad copy accompanying them. But a wonderful find, thank you.
posted by agregoli at 8:38 AM on June 22, 2006

When I was in grade seven, a boy in my class was badly burned. Glenn and a friend were out behind a neighbourhood KFC and thought it would be fun to drop lit matches into their grease bin. His friend got off very lightly with just minor burns, but Glenn spent four months in Toronto's Sick Children's hospital.

My class was given regular updates on how Glenn was and what his treatment was like, and just before his return someone came to school to show us slides of what burn victims looked like and explain that Glenn would have to wear elastic sheaths over his burns. We were all deeply sympathetic, and I can remember every word of the descriptions of his burn baths. They did a good job of educating us so that we would take the right attitude towards Glenn - matter of fact, and aware of the agony he'd undergone.

When Glenn came back he was basically the same fun loving goofball he'd always been, but it always seemed to me that there was a certain subtle maturity and strength of character that hadn't been there before.
posted by orange swan at 9:15 AM on June 22, 2006

i don't have burns, but i do have facial scars, pretty bad ones due to a skin condition, and there are almost no photographs of me. i am Black, medium brown in colouring, i guess you could say, but the scars are very dark patches and some are small while others are larger. and now it's happening on my arms, since i picked up a wicked case of contact dermatitis - just my luck.

i do have special makeup, the type that burn victims often use. it's called Dermablend and one can actually swim in it. i've used it on my face, but they even make one for varicose veins on your legs. i have a second type too, more recently created by someone who works with burn patients, and it's called CoverFX. neither one match my skin tone perfectly, but after i get the stuff trowled on and powered down, the difference is amazing. these days, i don't wear the makeup much. i've gotten older, and i am caring less about how people i don't know react to me.

for sure i do get treated differently - BETTER - when i have it on than when i don't. when i am not wearing it, i can be standing on a street corner or waiting for a bus, whatever, and people will stare and some will ask what happened. i don't mind little kids asking questions, but sometimes their parents are a bit appalled. i just say that i have skin problems of the non-contagious type.

what i really don't like though are people who put it like this: "oh my god, what happened to your face". it's really quite shocking how many people phrase their question like that. if i'm feeling cranky, i'll respond with something like, "oh my god, what happened to your manners."

however, there is one type of person some of guaranteed to annoy me, and while i am often polite, there are times when i am not. especially if they are persistent and about half of this group are. who am i talking about? the people who have a 'cure' for what ails me. lotions, potions, etc. if i would just try this or that, it would clear right up (as if it was acne which it is not). of this they are convinced. and you wouldn't believe what this and that sometimes is. let me see: raw potatoes rubbed on, all kinds of oils and ointments, vitamin e, various brands of de-scaring creams, and on and on.

over the years, i have seen some of the best dermatologists in Canada and the States, and in England when i lived there as a kid. my skin just scars, and scars badly and there's nothing to be done. the only thing that i have not tried is laser treatment and that's because the doctors think that it will definitely make things worse.

i do realize that people offer me these so-called cures because they genuinely want to help, but some of them get a little fiesty on the subject sometimes, like that old lady on the subway the other day, and i have to be firm in fighting them off, and i do mean fighting. most of the time, i am pretty nice. or at least nicer than i have to be.

what made it a bit harder is that growing up, before my little jaunt thru the wonderful foster care system (not a great place for a kid with scars, trust me on that observation), my younger brother and sister who are twins, were both taller and very good-looking, and they didn't even get acne.

personally, i'd love to know what Michael Jackson is using because i've often wondered it that would work for me. i'm not thinking of turning myself white, but maybe trying to even up my wacky pigmentation.

there is one benefit to my little problem. silver lining in a cloud, and all that. for some reason, my skin does not wrinkle. i was born in 1963 and at only 5 feet tall, i can still pass for a kid, as in mid to late teens. apparently, it's a side effect of my skin condition. when i was in my 20s and 30s, cops stopped me on the street late at night to ask me why i was not at home and if i am some sort or runaway. and they always think that my gov't id is fake. i actually had to get a piece of photo id without wearing my makeup because of course i look much more adult when i am wearing it as if i swiped the id of an older sister.

anyway, maybe if these young people with such terrible burns can get their pictures painted, or in the case of that zip file, their photos taken, maybe i can have some really nice pictures taken too. without the makeup. what the heck.
posted by TrinityB5 at 1:38 AM on June 23, 2006

TrinityB5: Wow. Thanks for sharing your story. Love and good luck to you.
posted by ryran at 10:37 AM on July 1, 2006

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