Facial Paralysis is a condition where the facial muscles are paralyzed. Around 40,000 people in the U.S. suffer from this problem each year, a small portion of which are children. This condition affects one side of the face, hence the tendency to drool, the inability to blink in one eye, the excessive tears and the sensitivity to light. Photographer Sage Sohier’s insightful series of photos entitled About Face depict people dealing with this condition as they bravely expose their paralysis in a brief attempt to smile for the camera.
Some can break into wide smiles, while others can only manage a neutral expression or a frown at best, depending on the degree of facial paralysis. Sohier shares her experience having spent three months at a facial nerve clinic in Boston:
“Most people I photograph are acutely aware of their imperfections and try to minimize them. Some have confided in me that, in their attempt to look more normal, they strive for impassivity and repress their smiles. They worry that this effort is altering who they are emotionally and affecting how other people respond to them.”
It is an unconventional approach to society’s perception of beauty today with so many people going under the knife in their quest to look younger, fuller, thinner and firmer. Photoshop is no longer a tool used to refine, but to perfect. Publications shamelessly promote airbrushed doll-like models over real women in their raw, unprocessed skin. In contrast, Sohier’s series highlights their courage to be featured in spite of their illness.
She says, “When looking at someone with partial facial paralysis, we are in a sense seeing two versions of the same face at once, with each side conveying different emotions. Like gazing at a cubist painting, we observe multiple facets of someone in a single instant. As a visual artist, I find myself fascinated by the intensity of glimpsing two expressions simultaneously, a literal ‘two-facedness’ that mesmerizes by its terrible beauty.”