When photographer Linda Hansen asked one of her subjects, Millie, how strangers reacted to her facial birthmarks, she was disheartened to hear her response. Hansen had known Millie since she was a little girl, and she knew her birthmark didn't define her.
"I was very shocked when I got to know what people dare to say to a person because of a birthmark on the face," Hansen told A Plus in an email. "It was not particularly pleasant. And what really struck me was that the people who knew Mille didn't see the mark."
One day, while driving and thinking about her conversations with Millie, Hansen realized what her next photography series would be. She had to take portraits of people with birthmarks on their faces in an effort to challenge the way we view them.
"I had to go out and try to find out how we see each other," Hansen said. "What are the values that we attach to each other because of our appearance and, in relation, to the fact that a person has a birthmark on their face? Could I get people to see beyond the mark in the portrait?" These were the questions Hansen sought to answer with her project, Naevus Flammeus.
In the project, she takes portraits of people who have a port-wine stain birthmark on their face. The photos are taken straight on against a dark background with her subjects looking directly at the camera with a relaxed expression.
"I want to make a confrontation," she said. "How long do you have to look? When do you start to see the other details in the photo? The nose, that the clothes are sitting a little wrong. All the small details which are really important. When you have looked enough at the person, the mark doesn't become interesting anymore."
Her subjects are used to hearing ignorant comments such as "Did your boyfriend beat you?" and You have your lipstick all over." But Hansen hopes this project may change that. She's compiled a total of 42 portraits into a book accompanied by statements about the condition from a doctor, and about birthmarks from an anthropologist. If more people learn about port-wine stains and how birthmarks have been viewed throughout history, maybe they'll become destigmatized.
"I have always been fascinated by imperfection and the beauty of it. Nobody can say that they're not affected perfections standards and ideals from media. I think the project is a reminder, for me, that those standards are not what's important. We have to go against the ideal of what we're confronted with from all kinds of media," Hansen said. "The 'imperfections' are what makes someone a person. The differences between us. That is what's interesting."