Linda Hansen got her start doing commercial photography in Denmark. But she knew she wanted to use her camera for more than just selling products.
After experimenting with a few different projects (she once traveled the country photographing and interviewing other women named Linda Hansen!), it was a conversation with an old friend that sparked what would become her most important work to date.
Hansen’s friend, a woman she had known since childhood, had a unique and distinctive birthmark on her face (called nevus flammeus nuchae or sometimes a “port wine stain”). They’d often talk about how people reacted seeing her on the street and some of the strange (and mean) comments she’d get.
“I got the idea that I have to take photos. I have to meet and talk with these people,” Hansen says.
Hansen began searching for more people like her friend for a series of portraits. Surprisingly, they were incredibly easy to find.
A casual casting call on Facebook got shared hundreds of times. Hansen started noticing people on the street who might fit the bill. Friends and acquaintances connected her with potential models.
Seemingly everyone knew someone with a birthmark they’d be proud to contribute to her project. (According to WebMD, about 1 in 300 babies are born with some form of the condition).
In her portraits, Hansen aims to challenge how we all see and treat each other. And ourselves.
One of the models, a man, was extremely nervous. He had only let people photograph him from his “good side” for as long as he could remember. And only in black and white.
A head-on, color portrait filled him with dread. But he pushed through.
“I was really surprised what people can say to each other. [The models] get a lot of rude comments,” Hansen says. “Sauce face, pizza face.” And that’s not the worst of it.
She says doesn’t understand how we can celebrate the beautiful uniqueness of, say, tattoos but look away from nature’s own marks.
In her photos, Hansen challenges us to not look away. To not stare or sneak a glance. But to truly see and eventually see past the things that make us different.
“When we know each other well, the way we look isn’t important anymore,” she says. “So much worry about how we look, for who? For people we don’t know.”
She says society tells us we all need to be alike. Photoshopped models and celebrities convey the message “No wrinkles, no scars, no spots, no nothing,” Hansen says.
“We all have our small differences, and that’s what makes us human and unique.”
All in all, Hansen took 32 portraits and compiled them into a book, called “Naevus Flammeus.”
She’s hoping the portraits, along with notes on the history of birthmarks and discussion of how (and, more importantly if) they should be treated, will make us all more aware of what makes us different; whether it’s a birthmark, a scar, a set of wrinkles, or even something unseen by the naked eye altogether.
Because what makes us different is ultimately what makes us human.