Joanna Black

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Biography: I was born in Edinburgh to Polish parents and studied photography, film/media and art briefly upon leaving school over 25 years ago but changed direction on the advice of my Mother who in her thick Polish accent said “Joanna, dat is all... read on
Public Project
The Deceivers
Credits: joanna black
Updated: 12/06/12

It's merely a mark of a reddish colour approximately 7 square centimeters applied to the face and yet it has been of immense importance since the beginning of recorded history. Lipstick.

Over the centuries lips have been reddened by many things including blood, wine, poison and faeces. In Ancient Greece, initially it was worn only by prostitutes who faced punishment for not wearing it as they were seen to be posing as ladies. In the Middle Ages, the church felt that a woman who wore make-up was seen as an incarnation of Satan.

Edward IV of England (c1461) had a lipstick called Raw Flesh. Queen Elizabeth I by the time of her death, had on nearly a half inch of lip rouge.

In 1770 Parliament declared that women who seduced men into matrimony through use of lip and cheek paints could have their marriages annulled as well as face witchcraft charges. 

The Victorians saw it as a pernicious form of commercial duplicity, a way of somehow tarting up shoddy goods.

Sarah Bernhart caused one of the greatest scandals in the late 19th Century when she applied red lip rouge in public. 

In the 20th Century lipstick was taken up by the Suffragettes as a symbol of female emancipation (a view reversed by feminists 70 years later when it became a symbol of womens bondage). Flappers of the 20s wore scarlet lipstick to shock their elders and New Hampshire tried to ban it. 

Through the great depression women started to apply lipstick more often than they brushed their teeth.

Over the course of the 20th Century, governments have gradually regulated away the deadlier side of lipstick and all the actual and imaginary toxic substances have been banned from lipstick. Lipstick is now apparently often kinder to animals as the ingredients in it are not tested on animals anymore (as they already passed those tests years ago).

Lipstick is a medicine to protect you from ageing, free radicals and ultra violet rays.

During the 40s, America saw it as a symbol of feminine resiliency and upped production. The Marines had their own colour, Montezuma Red. Britain on the other hand cut wartime production thereby creating a black market. Hitler banned it but was forced to relent as German women went on strike.

The power of the simple act of using lipstick can be perhaps most clearly seen in one of the darkest places of the war in the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Gonin during the liberation of the concentration camp Bergen Belsen when a large quantity of lipstick was somehow sent to prisoners his response changed from despair and range to wonder at the effect.

"....I do not know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with the scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tatooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity".

Lipstick is a trivial thing and yet it is quite clearly also not. Governments and religions still try to ban it and some even severely punish or attack women for wearing it, but they still wear it. It has meaning.

In this series, which I only began exploring in November 2012, I am examining the fact that whilst portraits are never a completely true representation of the sitter, be that painted, sculpted, photographed or written. There is however always something influencing what the portrait tells us, be that the intention of the artist, model or something else. I am attempting to reveal a truth in my portraits using something that is almost ubiquitous to women and by its very nature is a method of deceit.

I ask each sitter to write the name of their lip treatment on the board and I ask them to think about a certain truth about themselves but to not tell me what it is whilst I take the picture. I then examine each picture to see what truth is revealed.


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