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The Century Project returns to campus

The Century Project, a chronological series of more than 50 nude photographic portraits of women that challenge conventional interpretations of beauty, will be on exhibit from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Kenner Theatre, Ulrich Student Center, from Tuesday through Thursday. The exhibit is sponsored by the Lehigh University Women’s Center.

The photos in the exhibit include females from the moment of birth through 100 years of age and offer a wide range of ethnicities and body types. Most of the images are accompanied by moving and intensely personal statements of the subjects that encourage women to embrace their uniqueness.

“The subjects portrayed are, quite simply, real-life people,” says Frank Cordelle, the photographer for and organizer of The Century Project. “They are not stars or models. They span all ages and body types, and have a rich variety of experiences to draw upon and share. Century is about real women in real bodies, not the caricatures in the worlds of media and advertising.”

Cordelle is a former PhD candidate in biology and biochemistry at Brandeis who became a successful freelance photographer for clients such as Life magazine, Newsweek, and several Fortune 500 corporations. However, he was deeply influenced by the social and political impact of photos from the anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements, and decided to embark on a project that “countered the social treatment of women as objects.”

The Century Project is the culmination of nearly 20 years of effort, and is, in the estimation of its creator, nearly complete.

Included in the exhibit, which Cordelle transports to colleges and universities throughout the country, are portraits of women scarred by surgery, rejoicing in their youthful perfection, recovering from rape, battling bulimia, and reveling in the natural aging process.

They are, in the words of one reviewer, “unsettling, both in terms of their directness and raw emotion, but also dignified and beautiful.”

Adds another: “It is a striking relief to see the female body devoid of the cultural drenching of sexuality.”

The Century Project has been exhibited at Lehigh twice before, in 2000 and 2002, and received wide praise for its moving portraits and honest appreciation of real women and their bodies.

“I wanted to bring back the Century Project back to Lehigh because it is such a powerful challenge to dominant visual representations of women,” says Kristin Handler, director of the Women’s Center at Lehigh. “I can guarantee that most people have never seen anything like this exhibit.”

While at Lehigh, Cordelle will speak with groups of students from classes taught by Jan Fergus, Beth Dolan and Stephanie Watts, all professors in the English department; Marie Sophie Armstrong, associate professor of modern languages; Robin Dillon, professor of philosophy; and Nikki Tannenbaum, professor of sociology and anthropology. Several other instructors will send students to view the exhibit for extra credit.

Instructors who would like to bring their students to see the exhibit can still reserve a time by contacting the Women’s Center at x86484 or by e-mail.

For more information, please visit The Century Project Web site.

Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2005

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